“Llŷr Williams: A Schubert Journey”
Franz Schubert: CD 1: Sonata in A major, D. 959  – Sechs Moments Musicaux, D. 780  – Drei Klavierstücke n° 3 in C major, D. 946 ; CD 2: Sonata in B-Flat, D. 960  - Fantasy in C major (“Wanderer”), D. 760  – Drei Klavierstücke n° 1 in E-Flat minor, D. 946; CD 3: Sonata in C minor, D. 958  – Sonata in D major, D. 850 ; CD 4: Impromptus, D. 899  – Impromptus, D. 935 ; CD 5: Sonata in A minor, D. 845  – Sonata in G major, D. 894 ; CD6: Sonata in B major, D 575  – Sonata in A major, D. 664  – Sonata in A minor, D. 784 ; CD 7: Sonata in C major, D. 840 (completion by William Bolcom)  – 2 Scherzos, D. 593  – Ungarische Melodie, D. 817  – Sechzehn Deutsche Tänze, D. 783  – Allegretto in C minor, D. 915 ; CD 8: Transcriptions by Franz Liszt: “Das Wandern”, S. 565 n° I  – “Der Müller und der Bach”, S. 565 n° II  – “Erlkönig”, S. 558 n° IV  – “Frühlingsglaube”, S. 558 n° VII  – “Die Forelle”, S. 563 n° VI – “Ständchen”, S. 560 n° VII (Schwanengesang)  – “Liebesbotschaft”, S. 560 n° X (Schwanengesang)  – “Aufenthalt”, S. 560 n° III (Schwanengesang)  – “In der Ferne”, S. 560 n° VI (Schwanengesang)  – “Litaney auf das Fest aller Seelen”, S. 562 n° I  – “Ständchen von Shakespeare”, S. 558 n° IX  – “Die Post”, S. 561 n° IV (Winterreise)  – “Der Lindenbaum”, S. 561 n° VII (Winterreise)  – “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”, S. 558 n° II  – “Du bist die Ruh”, S. 558 n° III  – “Ave Maria”, S. 558 n° XII 
Llŷr Williams (pianist)
Live recording: Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, Wales (November 9, 2017 ; February 1, 2018 ; May 3, 2018 ; October 11, 2018 ; January 31, 2019 ) and Floating Earth Studios, London, England (February 2019 ) – 577’23
8 CDs Signum Classics SIGCD645 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English
I’ve been marinating in Schubert’s piano music the last four days and nights. It is as though there is nothing recognizable left of me. I feel like a character in some science fiction story in which all my DNA has been drained and replaced by light.
Schubert will do that to you. Even 223 years after his birth, he is still the Great Composer who creeps up on us, whom we weren’t expecting, and who winds up making an indelible imprint on our lives. Short, chubby, bespectacled, and shy, and dying at age 31 of a disease not discussed in polite society, the real-life Schubert is no one’s idea of a superhero. Yet, there he is, always ready to be rediscovered, astonish us with his power and eloquence, and take his place with the greatest music geniuses of all time.
This paean is prompted by the release by Signum Classics this month of an eight-disk album of the composer’s piano music, “Llŷr Williams: A Schubert Journey”. The set offers hours and hours of glorious Schubert performed with unfailing imagination and technical wizardry before a live audience by the Welsh pianist, Llŷr Williams, whose complete Beethoven piano sonatas (“Beethoven Unbound”) were released earlier to widespread acclaim.
This is not an exhaustive compendium of Schubert’s piano selections, but rather a choice array of some of the sweetest morsels and towering masterpieces and everything in between that the Viennese composer created for the keyboard. If you are not familiar with the breadth and beauty of Schubert’s piano works, this album is not only the place to start, but may be all you need.
Thankfully, the works are not presented in chronological order, but according to a scheme that draws the listener in and piques one’s interest to stay engaged. “Just one more track!” I kept telling myself as the clock ticked late into the night. Each of the first three disks begins with one of the great final Sonatas (D. 958 through D. 960), but not in the expected order. Disk 1 begins with the Sonata in A major, the second Sonata in a trilogy which some consider comparable to Beethoven’s last three piano Sonatas.
Arguably the greatest of Schubert’s sonatas, the B-Flat opens the second disk while the Sonata in C minor opens the third. Woven around the sonatas in the first three CDs are the delicious Moments Musicaux, two Klavierstücke, an earlier Sonata in D major (D. 850) and Williams’ thrilling—and I mean drop-dead, take-your-breath-away thrilling—Wanderer Fantasy in four movements.
But Schubert’s piano music has been around for a while. What makes this album so startling in its musicality, intelligence, and ability to provide and sustain pleasure at the highest level is the unfaltering performance of Llŷr Williams. Each selection, each page, each measure, whether in a complex sonata or an elegant impromptu, is given his entire unwavering attention and emerges a miracle of clarity and pure, singing tone.
In live performances such as these, one would expect a certain amount of casualness and distraction, a tendency to slur over passages, rush an accelerando to impress the audience and miss the occasional staccato dot or complete grace note. That is not the case. Williams brings to each work, no matter how slight or monumental, the same integrity and an honoring of the composer’s voice. Technically, I can’t help but be impressed, even amazed, by the strength of his playing and the consistency of pressure on each finger. Yet, there is an overarching individual expressiveness that conveys, as few others can, the unique wistfulness of the Schubert “sound”, the composer’s yearning for recognition and, later, for health, and knowing full well what little time he had in which to accomplish so much. I have never before heard the essential Schubert discerned and revealed at this level of perfection.
As a consequence of his brief life, Schubert left many fragments and incomplete works, and one of them has been revived with surprising success by American composer and pianist, William Bolcom, featured on Disk 7 of this collection. Bolcom composed two movements in Schubert’s style to conclude the two existing movements of the Sonata in C major, D. 840. While we may usually bristle when well-intentioned musicians attempt to complete the ideas of other composers, this particular setting works very well. Bolcom weaves in Schubertian triplets and 16th note runs, distinctive accidentals and the bell-like high notes that Williams rings so well.
The final disk includes settings for solo piano by Franz Liszt of several Schubert songs. The eight-disk collection concludes with two. First, the gentle ”Du bist die Ruh” (”Thou art repose”) whose text by Friedrich Rückert touches the hearts of listeners who have surrendered to the beauties of this collection: “Come in to me. Close the gate gently behind you...My eyes are a temple filled with your pure radiance...”
The final selection is Schubert’s Ave Maria. One need not be religious to respond to this valedictory selection. I challenge anyone who has lost a mother to listen to Llŷr Williams’ calming touch with dry eyes. It poses a fitting conclusion to a collection of Schubert performed flawlessly and with great affection by one of the most talented artists of our time.