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Review: John Lill at Barber Concert Hall, University of Birmingham

Renowned pianist delights audience with his performance in Birmingham

Pianist John Lill

John Lill is a resolutely old school pianist: immaculate tails, gentlemanly demeanour and an abhorrence of attention-grabbing gestures.

As a friend in the audience commented, “It just shows that you don’t have to throw yourself about to play well.” Quite. In Mozart’s Sonata in F (K332) he assiduously observed all the repeat marks, emphasizing the work’s scope and weight, and the plethora of first movement themes were all given their due and delineated clearly.

 Lill left the adagio plain and unadorned eschewing the sort of seductively florid decoration that, for example, Andras Schiff uses but it had an austere beauty.

However that plain-speaking unvarnished approach left the introduction to Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 under-characterized.

The ballad form implies a narrative voice and a greater willingness to use rubato can make Chopin’s hesitations resemble a bard slowly warming up before unleashing a sudden burst of keyboard vehemence – Rubinstein did this to magical effect.

Once underway though Lill shaped the music effectively.

Schumann’s Fantasy in C, like his piano concerto, reveals the seams where disparate elements were stitched together, and they sound like three separate character pieces.

Lill impressively encompassed both Schumann’s introspective (the delicate final nocturne) and flamboyant musical personas – the third section’s hugely demanding keyboard runs.

 Lill was at his best in Beethoven giving a tremendous performance of the Appassionata sonata: he played with iron concentration climaxing in a thunderous finale which was a true presto not an insane gallop after a slow movement where the variations were beautifully fashioned.

 

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