Concert 8. Wednesday 14th May 2014 8pm PDF Print E-mail





Sonata in F K332

Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Handel op.24


Sonata in B flat op.106 Hammerklavier





Within months of its formation in 2005,
the Escher Quartet was invited by both
Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman to
be the quartet-in-residence at their
summer festivals. Appointed BBC New
Generation Artists in 2010-12, they
continue to play at prestigious venues and
festivals around the world.
The short Bridge Quartet, a single
movement in three sections, starts with a
vigorous march, followed by a lovely slow
section, and a jolly finale. Britten’s last
quartet (1975) was the composer’s
swansong. It ends with the famous
Passacaglia finale – now to be viewed as a
farewell to life. Elgar’s quartet was written
in the aftermath of WW1 along with the
violin sonata, piano quintet and cello
concerto. Nostalgia for times past and the
horror of war pervade this quartet. The
outer movements are restlessly beautiful
and the central movement marked
piacevole (pleasing) tells of innocent
“…total focus, unflagging energy, bottomless
technique and, perhaps most important, rare
musical insight and a profound level of cohesion.”

John Lill’s concert career spans over 55 years. His rare talent emerged at an early age – he gave his first piano recital when only 9. In 1970 he won the most coveted of prizes, the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition, further consolidating his already busy international concert schedule.


Mozart’s sonata, the best known of the set of three, combines great beauty and elegance with extraordinary harmonic development particularly in the use of minor  eys. The distinguished music writer, Donald Tovey, ranked Brahms’ Handel Variations amongst "the half-dozen greatest sets of variations ever written". The piano was Beethoven’s natural expressive outlet, and by all accounts he was a formidable pianist. Ending with an immense fugue, the Hammerklavier has a vast, awesome and monumental beauty.


"One of the major pianists of our time – awesome, fabulous, revelatory, quite overwhelming." 


"As near to "rfection as we can hope for."









A stupendous concert to end the season


At the end of the evening there was a standing ovation; that has never happened before in these concerts and they have been going since 1946! And it wasn't as if the programme set out to be a crowd-pleaser, indeed I was told that John Lill was concerned that his programme might be too much on the heavy side. He ended with Beethoven's huge Hammerklavier sonata, a forty-five minute epic, having already played demanding music before the interval. His platform manner is undemonstrative, nothing flash or attention-seeking. But when those amazing fingers touch the keys something quite remarkable happens. Asked to name the great pianists of the age many would list those star artists assiduously promoted by the major record companies; but make no mistake, John Lill is their equal as this concert amply demonstrated.


He began with Mozart's Sonata K332. In the context of this programme it was right to give it a relatively restrained classical reading yet there was no lack of character in the approach and the finale, very quick as Mozart asks, had wonderful clarity.


The sound world of Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Handel is very different, rich and weighty and John Lill unleashed all the power at his command in striking contrast to what we'd just heard. There are twenty five short variations and in less skilled hands the work can seem bitty, but not on this occasion, such was the way the performance was structured, each variation skilfully linked to its neighbour. The final fugue was magnificently played, the hall's piano responding heroically to the demands made on it.


And so to the Hammerklavier. No need to pick over the niceties of the performance; as someone said afterwards 'at times it was as if Beethoven himself was playing'. The audience was held spellbound through the slow movement's twenty minute duration, I've rarely experienced such stillness and concentration in a concert hall. What a privilege and a joy for us to be there.



The following recordings were recommended in the programme



I recommend two 5 CD sets of the complete Piano Sonatas, each costing around the price of one full price disc. The first, by Klára Würst on Brilliant Classics 94034, has had many favourable reviews and is very well recorded. Alicia de Larrocha on Sony 88883798592 has a slightly more romantic approach, and again, is well recorded.



John Lill has made a very fine recording on Signum Classics SIGCD 075 (full Price). The couplings are Brahms Intermezzi, Op.117 and Schumann's Fantasy in C. A very cheap, but excellent, version has recently been reissued on Decca Virtuoso 4785404. The pianist is Stephen Kovacevich, and the filler is Brahms's Piano Concerto No.1 with the London S.O. conducted by Sir Colin Davis.



Perhaps the best recording that Sviatoslav Richter made whilst visiting the UK was of a live concert, including this work, on 18th. June 1975. The performance is outstanding in every way, and the sound quality is very good, on ICA Classics ICAC 5084 (full price). The couplings are Beethoven's Piano Sonata No.3 and some Bagatelles. Should you prefer a more modern recording, the young pianist Igor Levit has started, what I hope will be, a complete recording of the Beethoven Sonatas. Piano Sonatas Nos. 28-32 are included on a Sony 2 disc set (88883747352-budget price). The recording quality is excellent, and the performances are right up there with those of the great pianists of the past.

John Lill's very fine recordings of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas have been deleted, but individual discs are still available via internet retailers.


Raymond Waud.







Tonight's collection will be for Help Musicians UK (find out more at via Google). This is the new name for the Musicians Benevolent Fund, to which you gave a record amount of £970 this time last Season. They were able to claim tax relief on the donations from those who used the Gift Aid envelopes; there will be plenty available for tonight's collection.




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Applications for Season Tickets must be returned by the closing date given in the Brochure (30 July 2014). If you miss the deadline you may lose your seat(s). If you intend to be away for an extended period before you have received your Brochure, please let Pam know; she will reserve your seat(s). Whether or not you want your Patron's donation to be eligible for Gift Aid, we ask you please to check either the YES or NO box on the application form so that our Treasurer can maintain the audit trail required by the Inland Revenue.