Archive for Llŷr Williams

Llŷr Williams plays Schubert

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve been away from blogging for a few days, so I thought I’d begin the process of catching up with a short review of the concert I went to on Thursday evening (9th November) at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff featuring acclaimed Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams playing music by Franz Schubert. Llŷr Williams recently completed a series of concerts in which he performed all the works for keyboard by Beethoven, and now he has embarking on another journey, this time of Schubert. The concert was recorded and will, I believe, be released commercially.

The first half of the recital consisted of the Sonata in G Major D894 (Op. 78) which was written in 1826, just two years before the composer’s death. Although Schubert was already ill when he wrote this piece it is generally optimistic in tone.    The first and third movements introduce  dance-like elements, and the final movement is a light and breezy Allegretto in the form of a rondo. The piece is tempestuous in places but  generally resolves into a more tranquil mood. It’s a well-balanced and  enjoyable piece, wonderfully played.

To close the first half we had three transcriptions for solo piano by Franz Liszt of Schubert songs:  Ständchen, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, and Ave Maria.  The last of these (Ellens Gesang III) is probably the most famous as a song but also the least successful as a solo piano piece. On the other hand, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, works well. I’m not a huge fan of Liszt and although it was interesting to hear these works in this form I much prefer them sung by a human voice with a piano accompaniment.

After the interval  wine break we had a later Piano Sonata (in C Minor D 958), written during the last year of Schubert’s life. In four movements like the piece we heard in the first half, this piece has a much greater depth and sense of drama to it (at least to my ears), at least partly because it is clearly influenced in structure and tonality by Beethoven. Perhaps it was for that reason that this work inspired Llŷr Williams to a performance of great intensity as well as virtuosity, especially in the final Allegro movement which is extremely agitated, even frenzied. As he introduced the piece, Llŷr Williams spoke of this as being like a `dance of death’. Schubert probably knew he was dying when he wrote this piece, but it’s not as bleak as some of his other late works.  It seems to me to be characterised by a sense of determination,  to get as much done as possible before his life came to an end.

Schubert died before his 32nd birthday, but he was astonishingly prolific, especially towards the end of his life, and he left a huge legacy of wonderful music. I’m very much looking forward to the next concert in this series of explorations of his piano music.

 

 

 

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Llŷr Williams plays more Beethoven

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2017 by telescoper

Still determined to enjoy civilisation as much as I can while we still have it, last night I went to a splendid concert at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff featuring acclaimed Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams in the eighth (and penultimate) concert in a three-year series in which he is playing all the solo piano compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The first half of last night’s recital comprised two very contrasting works united by the fact that both were dedicated to pupils of Beethoven. The first, the “Grande Sonata” No. 4 in E-flat major (Opus 7) dedicated to Anna Louise Barbara Keglevich (also known as Babette). This is an early work, in four movements in a relatively conventional classical style, and you can hear the influence of both Haydn and Mozart in it.

The second piece, much later and more famous, was the Opus 78 “a Therese“, dedicated to the Countess von Brunswick. This is a radically different piece, in just two movements, with a very brief slow introduction of just a few bars after which it is all at a sprightly tempo. It’s quite a odd work, really, and probably quite hard to play with flurries of notes coming thick and fast.

 

 

After the interval we heard two more sonatas, the connection between them being that both have nicknames: Sonata No. 15 (Opus 28) “Pastoral” and Sonata No. 26 (Opus 81a) “Les Adieux”. The nicknames given to some of these works are usually not by the composer and are sometimes rather misleading. The name “Pastoral” was attached by a music publisher not by Beethoven himself, but it does describe the mood of at least some of this piece, which does evoke the countryside. It’s a lovely work, actually, one of my favourites from the entire repertoire.

‘Les Adieux’ is a work in three movements describing respectively the farewell, absence and return of the Archduke Rudolf as he was forced to leave Vienna when it was attacked by Napoleon’s army in 1809.  The second movement’s moving expression of loss and loneliness, is followed by a jubilant finale marking Rudolf’s return.

That was the end of the advertised programme, but not quite the end of the concert because after very warm applause, Llŷr Williams returned to play a rather substantial encore – the 32 Variations in C Minor (also by Beethoven). It’s not quite as substantial as it seems, though, as each variation is only 10-15 seconds long.

Anyway, this was another  hugely enjoyable evening of piano music. I’m just sorry I came to the series rather late and there’s now only one left (in May 2017). Still, he happened to mention that the entire set is being released as an 11 CD Box set later this year…

 

 

 

Llŷr Williams plays Beethoven

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 7, 2016 by telescoper

Determined to enjoy civilisation as much as I can while we still have it, last night I went to a splendid concert at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff featuring acclaimed Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams in an all-Beethoven programme.

The first half of the recital consisted of the three piano sonatas (Opus 10), which are his fifth, sixth and seventh sonatas altogether. Although these are still early works by Beethoven you can already see him pushing back the restrictions of the sonata form. The first two sonatas of this set are of the standard three movement fast-slow-fast format – the first, to my mind, very reminiscent of Haydn – whereas the third has four movements and is looking ahead to what Beethoven would do in future compositions; the  second movement of this third Sonata is particularly beautiful, in a darkly sombre way. None of these pieces reach the heights of his later works, but there is much to enjoy in listening to them.

After the interval we had the Diabelli Variations (Opus 120). The amusing story behind this much later work was recounted by Llŷr Williams before he started to play it. In 1819 the music publisher and  composer Anton Diabelli hit on an idea for a kind of publicity stunt for his publishing business. He wrote a little tune (a waltz, in fact) and sent it to a number of prominent Viennese composers (Beethoven amongst them) with the invitation to write a variation on it. The plan was to parcel all the individual variations together and sell the work as a kind of advertising brochure for Austrian culture. Beethoven wasn’t keen at first – at least in part because he thought the tune was too dull – but he then he decided to turn the project on its head by writing a complete set of variations himself. He wrote the first 19 in quick succession in 1819 and wrote another 14 a few years later. The 33 variations he produced altogether cover an astonishing musical and emotional range: sometimes witty, sometimes tragic, always fascinating. Llŷr Williams aptly described this collection as “one of the pinnacles of the piano repertoire”. Being almost an hour long it must be a demanding work to play, but he clearly relished performing it.

As a Jazz fan it has often struck me how great musicians in that idiom can find inspiration in seemingly unpromising tunes, turning base metal into gold through their gifts for improvisation. Last night it struck me how similar that is to Beethoven’s use of a simple little tune as the basis for the Diabelli variations. Theme and variation, that’s what it’s all about!

Llŷr Williams is currently doing a concert series exploring all of Beethoven’s piano works at the Wigmore Hall in London and these are being recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3. In fact, next week (on Tuesday 11th October, at 7.30) you have the chance to hear exactly the same programme that we heard last night. I’ll certainly be listening!

P.S. I’ll leave the pronunciation of “Llŷr” as an exercise to the reader…

 

 

 

St David’s Day Concert

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by telescoper

I’ve finally found a few minutes before dinner to post a quick review of last night’s St David’s Day concert at St David’s Hall here in Cardiff.

I was very lucky with the tickets for this because when I first went on the on-line booking system there didn’t seem to be any blocks of good seats available, and I was hoping to go with a contingent of work colleagues and their partners. However, I was then distracted by work things and decided to try again later. When I logged on again, a set of front-row seats had mysteriously appeared. I snapped them all up for £20 quid each and had no problem finding buyers for them all. And so it was that we took our seats last night just a few feet from the edge of the stage for the performance, which was broadcast Live on BBC Radio 3.

The main item on the bill was the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, which accounted for the huge number of singers ranged up behind the stage. These included not only the BBC National Chorus of Wales (on the right of the stage) but also massed County Youth Choirs from all across the Principality (in the centre) and a choir of very young children from Ysgol Gymreig Pwll Coch to the left. The latter, I should say, in case I forget later, were absolutely terrific.

However, before the interval the divers choirs had a chance simply to listen to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales play Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43 by Sergei Rachmaninov, featuring Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams. It was a pleasant enough warm-up, with flashes of virtuosic brilliance as well as lots of changes of mood, although I did think it took soloist and Orchestra quite a while to gel together. Incidentally, the “theme by Paganini” used as the basis of this piece is the same one that was used for the musical introduction to the South Bank Show, although I think quite a lot of people know that.

Anyway, it’s quite a short piece so the interval came up quickly. In the bar we found free Welsh cakes and bara brith, which was delicious, and 20 minutes later we were back in the hall for the main event.

The Carmina Burana is of course an extremely popular concert piece, but the fact that it’s so well known hasn’t resulted in it becoming a commonplace experience. It’s one of those works that can sound fresh and exciting no matter how many times you’ve heard it before. In fact, last night’s performance was gripping right from the start.

It’s probably a dangerous trick for a composer to use their best idea right at the start, but it works in this case. The opening O Fortuna made it clear to every one in the hall that we were in for a treat, as the sense of controlled power from the massed voices was quite spine-tingling. There’s only a  problem with starting  brilliantly if you can’t sustain it, but that’s not the case with the Carmina Burana. The text is taken from a curious collection of 13th century poems – mainly in ecclesiastical latin, but with smatterings of German and Provencal. Curious because, although they were written by monks, they are decidedly secular in subject matter including bawdy drinking songs and lewd lyrics about sexual lust. The music is quite varied too, using bits of plain chant alongside more modern-sounding sections. In other words, there are enough contrasts in both subject matter and musical style you keep you hooked all the way through; at least that what I felt.

As well as the massed choirs there are three solo vocalists, although the work isn’t shared equally. Baritone Christopher Maltman had by far the most to do and he certainly earned his crust. Soprano Sarah Tynan sang her pieces very nicely, especially when she was teamed up with the splendid children’s choir. Tenor Allan Clayton only had one piece to do – a song about a swan being roasted on a spit – but he didn’t fluff it when his chance finally came.

Conductor Andrew Litton (left) cut an engaging figure on the podium. Bouncing up and down with an energy that belied his rotund appearance I thought he looked like a cross between John Sessions and Jocky Wilson.  He also kept the enormous orchestral and choral forces together quite superbly and managed to conjure up an excellent performance from all concerned. When we made it to a local restaurant after the performance we found him sitting just one table away. He’d certainly earned his dinner!

Carmina Burana ends with a recapitulation of the initial number O Fortuna – best known perhaps for being used in the film The Omen – after which much applause reverberated around the hall. Rightly so, as it was a really wonderful concert.

It didn’t end quite there, however. Since it was St David’s Day there was a final rendition of the Welsh National Anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau which the audience joined in. With the massed choirs belting it out as if their lives depended on it I’m not sure how much we were heard on the Radio, but I can tell you that it sounded great inside the hall.


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