Like Richard Goode, John Lill is a pianist who allows no hint of ego to obtrude between the music and the listener.
He has a quiet, unassuming platform presence which oozes both authority and deference to the composer, and the greater the composer, the more the rewards which accrue.
And they don’t get any greater than Beethoven and Brahms, enjoyed by a rapt, virtual full-house Town Hall audience on Sunday afternoon, Lill returning to the building where he made such a treasurable CD recording of the complete Beethoven piano concertos with the CBSO and Walter Weller for Chandos in the late 1980s.
Beethoven’s early D major Sonata from the Op.10 set was delivered with a clear sense of direction, almost like an improvisation which knew which way it was going.
Voice-leading was sure-footed in often complex textures, dynamics and and accents were wittily conveyed.
Possibly Beethoven’s greatest, most influential sonata, the ‘Waldstein’ was given with skirling, pearly articulation in its outer movements, with the central adagio building its own quiet intensity and tension before a convincing sense of inevitability in the finale’s release.
There is more virtuosity here than most listeners realise, and Lill certainly didn’t make a fuss of drawing our attention to it.
Lill’s pianism was an almost crystalline vehicle for the congested textures of Brahms, both in the urgent pair of Op.79 Rhapsodies and in the imposing Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.
In the latter Lill drew little character-miniatures much in the manner of the great French baroque composer Couperin (whose works Brahms edited).
There was a seamless cogency and momentum to this reading, and a delicacy of dynamics which led to a triumphant peroration with a fabulous keyboard release at the end -- not every pianist can persuade his instrument to that.