Llŷr Williams Brings a Sense Of Poetry to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto

United KingdomUnited Kingdom C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven: Llŷr Williams (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Janiczek (violin/director), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 03.03.2016 (SRT)

C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in G
Mozart: Violin Concerto in D, K211; Rondo in C, K373
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4

When Llŷr Williams comes to Edinburgh to play Beethoven, people pay attention.  During the interval, I got talking to a lady in the audience who came to Scotland from New York specifically to hear him play this piece!  I doubt she’ll have thought the journey wasted.  Williams has a relationship with a keyboard that you see in few others.  He stoops to commune with it, as though he is listening to it and getting a response, and his playing has a special kind of expressive drive to it as a result.  Above all, he brings a sense of poetry to this, Beethoven’s most consistently lyrical concerto.  The runs seem to ripple under his fingers, with a constant sense of flow that underpinned even the cadenza.  However, he combined this with quicksilver lightness in the heavier passages, giving them a tremendous sense of life, and even the big restatement of the main theme at the start of the recapitulation became a triumphant climax that then dissolved into a question mark.  It’s beautiful and constantly evolving, as though Williams is redrawing it before our ears.

Importantly, he also has a continual sense of give-and-take with the orchestra, like a conversation, and they responded with rich, buoyant string sound in the first movement that then became clipped and precise in the second movement, before a bullish and assertive final run of the Rondo.  They were on equally sparkling form for C.P.E. Bach’s typically adventurous Symphony in G, which bounded along with customary energy in the outer movements, and featured a remarkable section in the first movement where the different sections of the orchestra seemed to be chatting to one another.

Having both Mozart’s Second Violin Concerto (1775) and the C major Rondo (1781) side-by-side proved surprisingly revealing.  The concerto is the more famous work, and Alexander Janiczek, directing from the violin, played it with lots of charm.  I liked the way the orchestral strings played with very little vibrato while Janiczek used plenty, thus giving a slightly veiled quality to the orchestral sound and solving the problems of orchestra/soloist balance at a stroke.  The Rondo is the greater work, though.  Even though it’s significantly shorter and dates from only six years later, you really notice how much Mozart’s style had moved on in the intervening time.  It has wit, wisdom and wry humour where the concerto was more uncomplicatedly sunny, and Janiczek seemed to love milking every ounce of playfulness and beauty out of it.

Simon Thompson


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