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Don’t be Modest!

New York
Weill Recital Hall
03/06/2009 -  
Franz Schubert: Sonata in C Minor, D958
Claude Debussy: Estampes
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Llyr Williams (piano)

Llyr Williams (© Sussie Ahlberg)

On Friday evening, Welsh pianist Llyr Williams made his “distinctive debut” at Carnegie Hall in the upstairs room known as the Weill Recital Hall. The title of the series doesn’t quite fit for Mr. Williams, as last season he played a fine concert here in the basement – otherwise know as Zankel Hall – offering a poetic La lugubre gondola of Franz Liszt and a spirited Contrasts of Béla Bartók on the same program with another pretty good pianist named Mitsuko Uchida. But this current concert is his first totally solo recital and boasted an extremely ambitious program.

Mr. Williams is a big guy, a young Garrick Ohlsson. He has learned the art of mastering his strength well, producing very loud passages without any sacrifice of taste or intonation. Attacks were always clean, decays sometimes ragged. Perhaps it was unfamiliarity with the particular piano in place, but often unwanted overtones haunted the hall. His accuracy was reasonable, the miscues more in the errors of enthusiasm category.

Writing in the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik, Robert Schumann stated that in the Sonata in C Minor, D958 of Franz Schubert one could “hear the cold wind of the grave.” Mr. Williams has a rather heavy touch for this type of spectral effect and thus there was not as much poetic life in this traversal as there otherwise might have been. Choosing Debussy – in this case Estampes – for his inaugural recital was a bit of a tactical error, as this young aspirant still needs to work on delicacy of touch. Further, he has yet to refine the entertainment aspects of the act. His turning to the audience as he projected a quasi-profound stare at the end of each piece was a bit precious.

But the second half of this concert was memorable indeed. Mr. Williams produced a remarkable, if idiosyncratic Pictures at an Exhibition, especially noteworthy because the individual paintings were crafted by this talented pianist rather than by Hartmann. Each frozen portrait was quite different from its neighbors.

The choice of a glacially slow tempo for The Old Castle was marred only by a clunker in the midst of the familiar melody (clearly Mr. Williams would have loved to have that moment back). Tuileries and Bydlo were earcatchingly slow and Mr. Williams spaced out the now elongated rhythms expertly and relentlessly. After these tempi, his chicks hatched extremely quickly. And his athleticism added punch to the final Great Gate. All in all, a rather distinctive debut after all.

There was a documentary film being shot during the proceedings. I’m sure that a slick editor can turn this evening’s effort into a superb performance.

Fred Kirshnit



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