Archive for Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

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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The Emerson Quartet

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been an enjoyably rich week for me in terms of cultural pursuits, rounded off in fine style last night with a visit to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for a concert by the Emerson String Quartet of music by Purcell, Britten and Beethoven. On Wednesday I made the mistake of going to a concert without having had any food, so this time I sampled the bar menu at the College before the performance. Very nice fish and chips, with very prompt service.

The first half of the concert consisted of three pieces by Henry Purcell, the Chacony in G Minor and two Fantazias (in D Minor and G Major, respectively). The Chacony (from the Spanish `Chacona’ via the French `Chaconne’) is a set of variations over a ground bass, while the Fantazias have a much freer structure with the instruments often mimicking vocal lines. This was followed by the String Quartet No. 2 in C by Benjamin Britten, the last movement of which includes a Chacony as a deliberate homage to Purcell (whose music Britten admired enormously). It was actually written to commemorate Purcell’s death (on 21st November 1695). Overall, though, this is more reminiscent of the approach of Britten’s friend Dmitri Shostakovich. It is full of jagged figures emerging from a background that alternates between dark and frenetic.

After the interval wine break, it was time for one of my favourite pieces in all music, the sublime String Quartet No. 15 (in A minor) by Ludwig van Beethoven (Opus 132). I’ve loved this piece for many years and it became even more special to me five years or so ago when I was recovering from illness. Until last night, though, I had never heard it live.

This is a long work, taking over 40 minutes to perform, dominated by the central third movement, which is headed with the words

Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart

I take the liberty of translating the first two words, using my schoolboy German, as “A Holy Song of Thanksgiving”; Beethoven wrote the piece after recovering from a very serious illness which he had feared might prove fatal. The movement begins in a mood of quiet humility but slowly develops into a sense of hope and deeply felt joy. The most remarkable  thing about this movement to me, though,  is that the music seems to possess the same restorative powers that it was written to celebrate. I certainly found it extremely therapeutic when I was unwell.

Hearing the whole piece live has a much greater impact than hearing one movement on record, and I have to admit I found last night’s performance quite overwhelming. Judging by the rapturous applause from the audience in the Dora Stoutzker Hall, I think a great many people realised that they had just heard something very special.

Music from three very different periods, by three very different periods, all played beautifully with great passion and imagination. What more could you ask for?

Well, we did get something extra – an encore in the form of one of Dvorak’s Cypresses (No. 7 to be precise):

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…