Llyr Williams, one in a procession of outstandingly talented pianists who have emerged from Great Britain in recent decades, played a recital Saturday afternoon at the University of the District of Columbia. It proved an auspicious inauguration of the Hayes Piano Series during the 50th-anniversary season of Washington Performing Arts.
Williams cannot be called a colorist, the term sometimes used by the pros to describe the breadth and variety of sound production. But as befits a Welshman and a pianist who frequently collaborates with singers, the sound Williams creates has an irresistible singing quality like no one else’s. His infallible technique serves a keen musical intelligence, with every phrase supported, balanced and imbued with unequivocal meaning.
He uses the damper pedal with restraint, even in music by Debussy and Scriabin where many pianists envelop the notes in a blur of pedal. Unencumbered by emotional clutter, Williams’s interpretations reveal the music’s contours and textures with the precision of a sharp photograph. He favors spacious, unrushed tempos, delivered with a calm authority that holds the audience from the moment he begins to play.
Williams is immersed in recording Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, as well as performing the complete cycle live at London’s Wigmore Hall. He chose two of those pieces, the C minor Sonata, Op. 10, No. 1 and “Les Adieux,” Op. 81a, for the first-half of his recital Saturday. Listening to them was like hearing a crack chamber orchestra led by a brilliant conductor. No detail escaped attention, even as shapes of entire movements were brought into focus with sweep and grandeur.
The same pristine clarity informed seven pieces from the first book of Debussy’s Preludes, each a vivid microcosm of distinct sensibility, and three terse but evocative “Poems” by Scriabin. A glowing, generous performance of Chopin’s F minor “Fantasy” concluded the program.