Tonight, on Benjamin Britten’s birthday 100 years to the day, Llŷr Williams performed a selection of Britten’s piano music alongside works by Haydn, Bridge and Schubert: composers for which Britten had a close personal affection. This evening’s concert also marked the finale of the 2013 Gregynog Festival, the rest of which took place in June, and which this year featured both the music of Britten and other composers with which he associated, both personally and musically.

Llŷr Williams © John Ferro Sims
Llŷr Williams
© John Ferro Sims

Williams’ recital, on both an aural and visual level, had an effect akin to that evoked by the effortless, rich, well-spoken and assured voice of a mature actor. Certainly, in this vein and on the issue of direct musical communication, I would venture to draw a parallel between Williams and the late Glenn Gould. Indeed, the lasting affect is that one leaves the recital hall with a tingling urge to recreate Williams’ soundworld under one’s own fingertips. This is perhaps a result of his utter absorption in his performance as well as his thoroughly considered approach and skill as a musical communicator: from start to finish, there were no superfluous notes or phrases and the technical difficulties within his programme (of which there were many) were clearly regarded as springboards for the music as opposed to pianistic obstacles. I immediately call to mind the articulate nonchalance with which Williams played the rapid double-thirds in the first movement of the Haydn.

Williams was at home with the music of all four composers and drew out of the Haydn sonata and Britten’s Holiday Diary a charming sense of humour (one, incidentally, that he extended into his encore: a movement from Schoenberg’s Op. 19). His very slight nuances of tempo in the third movement of the Haydn conveyed a sense of a few key signature “accidents” part way through the movement – something I had not heard in this before. What stood out most of all, however, was Williams’ command and control of the resonances of the piano, particularly within the second movement of Bridge’s intensely chromatic Sonata and Britten’s Notturno. His registral discrimination was refined and clear, as he exploited the resonances of the piano and balanced and contrasted different areas of the piano simultaneously, often weaving several musical lines at once with great clarity and control.

Williams’ linear conception of the large-scale Bridge and Schubert works (both very sectional compositions) also remained at the fore. The overall theatrical structure of Schubert’s Wanderer-Fantastie was very well retained and, almost by contrast, the second movement of Bridge’s piece seemed to be “allowed” to evolve organically, and to ebb and flow of its own accord. Indeed, to hear this piece performed in this way within the spacious Reardon Smith Theatre, with its fragmented sections, frequent silences and bittersweet, yearning melodies really drove home the underlying hopelessness of the work.

As is a trademark of Williams, he delivered a thoroughly committed, thoughtful and evocative performance of surprisingly complementary works, similar not just in their relationships to Britten, but also in their respective structural integrities, drawn out expertly, that provided an additional common ground to the programme.