Tag Archives: Horsecross Perth

Paul Lewis

Perth Concert Hall

It is not fantastical to think that when the designers of Perth Concert Hall – in all its structural, visual and acoustic detail – first envisaged the building at the start of the new millennium, they imagined it with a piano sitting in the centre of the stage.

Although the auditorium has proved itself highly adaptable, it is beyond argument one of the finest places in the country to hear a piano recital. So beginning a new series of concerts by well-known soloists, under the banner “Classical Stars”, with pianist Paul Lewis playing Schubert sonatas makes perfect sense. Even better, this is the start of a commitment by the musician to play all of them over the coming years, and Perth is the Scottish venue to hear that project.

On what was, by happy coincidence, Schubert’s birthday, Lewis began with a career-spanning taste of what that journey might have in store, from one of the composer’s earliest excursions into the form (albeit in a version revised later), via one from his most anguished period, to a sunnier – and much better known – late work. It was the same programme he played for BBC Radio 3 in London’s Wigmore Hall earlier in the month, and this was the performance of a man who has lived with – and in – these pieces and their narrative for a while.

In the E flat major D568 Sonata that was immediately clear in his organic phrasing of repeating phrases, full of subtle alterations in their sequence and, audibly, between performances. A very thoughtful Andante slow movement, unchanged by the composer when he returned to the work, was followed by a very sprightly Menuetto that was a long way from “strict time” in the dancing sense, and finished with what was almost a flamenco flourish.

In February 1823 Schubert had just been diagnosed with syphilis – a death sentence two centuries ago – and the A minor Sonata, D784, surely reflects his despair and anger. In its three movements, Lewis found the anguish and resignation at the work’s heart. Even more of a challenge, however, is the contradictory nature of the finale. Its pell-mell cascade of notes, with a glorious melody fighting through the fury to be heard, is writing on an epic scale for the instrument.

By comparison the character of D850 in D major, composed on a summer holiday two years later, is of a man more at peace. This is the sound of the fresh air and open country, even if the hiking is at an impressive pace. The Con moto second movement is not exactly bucolic, but the flowing stream it seems to depict is a picturesque waterway, and there is something of the fairground about the Scherzo that follows.

Lewis’s performance was all about the composition’s rhythmic playfulness, nowhere more so than in the concluding Rondo, with its clock-like pulse, and in his perfect phrasing of the charming coda.

Keith Bruce

Llyr Williams

Perth Concert Hall

When concerts have been permitted to happen, it has been a bankable certainty that Perth Concert Hall’s Creative Director for Classical Music, James Waters, is among the first promoters to be staging them. So it was more than fortuitous that the easing of restrictions should coincide with the start of Perth’s series of Tuesday lunchtime concerts, and a very thoughtful programme from Welsh pianist Llyr Williams.

He began a remarkable run of recitals at the venue this spring, with Sunday afternoon concerts also restarting next month and the finest pianists in the country all appearing in Perth – Paul Lewis, Clare Hammond, Alasdair Beatson, Joanna MacGregor and Steven Osborne are all on the list.

Oddly, perhaps, the names of Mozart and Haydn are not in the scheduled repertoire to be played by any of them however, so Williams had the two early masters to himself, opening with Haydn’s C Major Sonata and finishing with Mozart’s C Minor Fantasia and Sonata, K475 and K457.

In between the pianist leapt forward in time with French works by Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc and the parallels Williams pointed up were often startling. Most obviously these were in pace, alternating between languid introspection, and lightning-figured articulacy. The speed of his playing of the Rondo of the Haydn was as Presto as is surely possible, but it was all the more startling after the boldly downbeat Andante opening to the concert.

There was also a clear pre-echo of the rippling phrasing beloved of the piano-writing of Debussy in particular, and his Hommage a Haydn incorporates similar shifts of pace within a much briefer piece. It followed Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom de Haydn – much less the technical composition exercise the title suggests and more another of the composer’s breathtakingly lovely tunes.

The jazzy tone of the Debussy continued in two of Poulenc’s Novelettes, moving in key, and bluesiness, from C Major to B flat minor, and possibly alluding to the tonal shift from the Haydn to the Mozart in the arc of the whole programme.

With the Fantasia we returned to the introspection of those first bars of the Haydn, Mozart at his most Beethovian. With precision pedal-work, and haunting pauses, here was Williams integrating the ingredients we had heard earlier into one story. With his balletic hands shaping even the rests in the music, it was a captivating narrative that occupied nearly half of the total recital time.

The first of four of the Tuesday concerts being recorded for future broadcast on by BBC Radio 3, it will be well worth making an appointment to catch.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Llyr Williams by Hannan Images