mon 25/03/2019

Llŷr Williams, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Llŷr Williams, Wigmore Hall

Llŷr Williams, Wigmore Hall

The German classics ring out from the mighty hands of a winning Welsh pianist

'In terms of skills and thrills and personal charm (he has an extremely genial manner), Williams gives many of his colleagues a run for their money'

Do paws get any mightier than Llŷr Williams's? When not crashing down onto the Wigmore Hall Steinway like a ton of singing bricks, they were digging deep, like strong, nifty moles, foraging for the contrapuntal melodies that lay beneath the topsoil. Williams was made to tackle the beefy German classics on this programme.

Busoni's transcription of Bach's great Chaconne in D minor was grand and bracing, like the lusty, lyrical stirring of a mighty male Welsh choir. The fluency and conviction and sweep of the rushing scales - in octave or alone - and those enormous chromatic climbs was pure choral fantasy. Yet amid all this hymning there was no glossing over the moments of intimacy and whispering. Williams fished out the left-hand chorales and shy motifs hidden in the textures lovingly and drew us into the darkest corners, too.

Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata was virile, cheekily sprite-like where necessary, fantastically dark in the undergrowth of the development. Was it lacking sweetness at times? Perhaps. But no matter. We deliberately stumbled our way through the hazy, searching Adagio to the peeling bells of the Rondo finale. Who could better sound out that jubilant theme, or transform it into something of a Walpurgis night, than Williams.

Would all this power, however, crush the delicate Three Intermezzi, Op 117, by Brahms? Not a bit of it. These broken little works were cradled like a baby, their nostalgia and weariness and anxieties movingly evoked in the drawing out of that rainy right-hand line in the second piece or the heavy winding-down of the end of the third.

To finish we had Brahms's handsome Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op 24. Williams has all the tools for this work: a flawless technique (something that was so ever-present one almost took it for granted), a clarity of line, a mind full of characters but no caricatures and a no-holds-barred approach to the big rhetorical flourishes. And few living pianists could so safely navigate, so carefully voice, so thrillingly structure a fugue like Williams. I'd love to hear him in Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues some time.

In terms of skills and thrills and personal charm (he has an extremely genial manner), Williams gives many of his older, more experienced colleagues a run for their money. He came out again to deliver a thunderous encore of Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Liebestod that showed that he could probably give many orchestras a run for their money, too.

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