Llyr Williams Set Beethoven Cycle in Motion with Astonishing Musicianship

10.12.14
Llyr Williams
Seen and Heard International

By Lucy Jeffrey  

Bringing the beginning of his ‘Beethoven Sonata Series’ to Cardiff’s RWCMD, Llyr Williams gave an astonishing recital. Through his technical precision and heartfelt performances the audience were left mesmerised by both his talent and ability to subtly convey the fraught emotion in the kernel of each piece. A perfectionist and truly professional performer, Williams certainly deserved the rapturous applause and standing ovation he received in the Dora Stoutzker Hall.

Dedicated to Haydn, with whom Beethoven studied in 1792, the Op.2 sonatas opened Williams’ concert. Beethoven’s compositions allude to Haydn’s Classical style, but veering away from the older maestro, have a quintessentially Beethoven feel. Following on from Muzio Clement’s compositions for keyboard though displaying greater boldness and tenderness, these works mark the arrival of perhaps the most famous composer of piano sonatas. Williams’ performance of the Piano Sonata in F minor Op.2 No.1 rested somewhere between Bach (with the Menuetto, Allegro sounding almost like a partita) and Ravel. Through lightness of touch with his left hand and balanced use of pedals Williams avoided sounding typically Romantic, contemporising these pieces for a modern day audience. Williams brought out such softness and tenderness in the Adagio movement and throughout this concert stamped the Beethoven sonatas with a peculiarly ‘Williams’ feel.

Contrasting with the strongly characterised and brooding Sonata in F minor, Op.2 No.1, the Sonata in C, Op.2 No.2 is a light and joyous piece, seemingly devoid of the angst and intensity of the other pieces performed in this concert. Williams’ interpretations were cautiously and intelligently thought out and delivered with unwavering directness of emotion. Through not overplaying the chords and adding more slurs around the staccato runs, Williams unburdened the first movement, removing its starkness to carve a more nuanced and lyrical shape.  Indeed, there were more closed eyes when he played the tender Adagio than during a performance of ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’.

After the interval Williams returned to the spacious and elemental luminosity of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in A, Op.2 No.2. Bravely exposing the Largo appassionato with uncluttered simplicity, Williams’ minimalism and exactitude helped to imbue this piece with impressionistic poeticism. In particular, featuring a pizzicato-like walking bass contrasted by lyrical chords, Williams managed to imitate the style of a string quartet this second movement. Written in D major, the subdominant of A major, this section requires a great deal of contrapuntal phrasing, which Williams conveyed with considerable composure.

Posthumously called the Appassionata Sonata, the magnificent Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 is one of Beethoven’s most technically challenging and tempestuous pieces. Composed in 1803, and displaying all of the audacious experimental notions of the ground-breaking composer, this Appassionata Sonatawas written at a time when Beethoven was trying to come to terms with his steadily deteriorating hearing. Much like the Waldstein Sonata and Eroica Symphony, it is worth noting that after composing such innovative and arresting a piece Beethoven did not write another piano sonata for five years. According to Czerny, who described this majestic piece as ‘ocean waves on a stormy night and a distant cry for help’, Beethoven considered it to be his greatest sonata before the Hammerklavier,composed much later. Dedicated to Count Franz Brunswick, this attribution is much more telling when one considers the fact that Beethoven had fallen in love with Countess Therese von Brunswick and Josephine von Deym, Count Franz’s sisters.

Beginning with subdued rumblings and disquiet, the piece erupts into an animated outburst of astonishing extremity and intimidating intensity (perhaps alluding to Beethoven’s unrequited love for the two sisters). Leaving a trail of hazy disquiet and unresolved conflict until augmenting into a tempestuous overflow of spontaneous emotion; Williams successfully tapped into the whole gamut of human emotion when performing this sonata. The Jascha Heifetz of the piano, Williams was subtle yet evocative using tonal and dynamic variation economically so as not to overwhelm the music.

Soviet pianist Heinrich Neuhaus’ description of the imagery that is conjured from a piano recital is most befitting for Williams’ performance of Beethoven’s sublime Appassionata Sonata:

Everyone is aware of the fact that visual and auditive perspective are identical; the only difference being that they are created and perceived by two physically different organs, the eye and the ear. How often the playing of a great master makes us think of a picture with a deep background and varying planes; the figures in the foreground almost leap out of the frame whereas in the background the mountains and clouds are lost in a blue haze.

Certainly a great master in his ability to conjure thoughts and spark the imagination of his audience, Williams painted bucolic scenes of wandering fields and engulfing sea storms. Bringing the audience to their feet in rapturous applause, the next instalment of his Sonata Series on February 21st will certainly be worth attending.