Wagner Without Words

£18.00

Pianist Llyr Williams explores Wagner’s rich and evocative sound-world from a different perspective.

Featuring insightful arrangements of Richard Wagner’s operas by Franz Liszt and Glenn Gould (as well as Williams’ own arrangement of music from Parsifal), at the centre of the programme is a selection of Wagner’s own piano pieces – many of which were written earlier in his compositional career, hinting at the grand operatic masterworks which were yet to come.
 
SKU: SIGCD388

What people are saying

"It’s technically superb; WiIliams is equal to the toughest challenges that Liszt presents, but always puts Wagner first …the colours WiIliams creates from the keyboard in Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the Parsifal suite are radiant and entrancing." The Guardian, September 2014

Album of the Week – WQXR New York, September 2014

"The Welsh virtuoso’s idea of juxtaposing a selection of Wagner’s uneven piano works with transcriptions is pianophile catnip … An uplifting disc." The Sunday Times

"… a varied and rewarding programme enriched by Williams’s velvet touch, meticulous voicing, attention to detail and judiciously graded dynamics." Gramophone, November 2014

"A highly stimulating album." Northern Echo

Llyr Williams piano

Release date:25th Aug 2014
Order code:SIGCD388
Barcode: 635212038826

This Signum twofer is little short of a revelation: firstly, because it shows how well – if insightfully played, as here – Wagner’s music fits the piano; secondly, because over a third of the 142-minute playing time is original Wagner, not transcription; and thirdly, for Llyr Williams’ beautifully idiomatic playing. These discs were a near-permanent fixture in my player in the run-up to Christmas.

Around half (in number) of Wagner’s extant piano works are given here, including the last of his six sonatas, the single-span sonata for the Book of Mrs MW (1852, written for Mathilde Wesendonck). The largest work is the Fantasy in F sharp minor (1831), throughout which one can hear the young composer coming to terms with Beethoven. Its 26 minutes strain the structure but this is a compelling listen. The other original items are trifles, written for individuals (all women, unsurprisingly!), including the flirtatious Zurich Waltze (1854) for Mathilde’s younger sister.

Wagner’s greatest transcriber was Liszt, whose reworkings dominate the programme. They range from the delicate, charming spinning Chorus (The Flymg Dutchman) and EIsa’s Bridal Procession (Lohengrin) to the grand recomposition of Entry of the Guests (Tannhauser, Act II), made to fit a satisfying, purely musical structure, removed from theatrical considerations.

Liebestod (Tristan und lsolde) is fairly straight, as are Williams’ own transcriptions of three episodes from Parsifal, made for this recording: 21 minutes encapsulating Williams’ complete understanding of Wagner’s music as well as his technical virtuosity. Glenn Gould’s transcription of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the Prelude from Die Meistersinger are also included. Signum’s sound is superb. Highly recommended. 

International Piano Magazine

Pianist Ll?r Williams plays a selection of Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Wagner’s operas. The album includes his own arrangements of Glenn Gould’s Siefried’s Rhine Journey and Prelude to Die Meistersinger transcriptions, as well as his own version of three scenes of Parsifal. Player with supreme sensitivity, this is a must for all Wagnerians. 

Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht

Wagner’s operas have inspired innumerable piano transcriptions from Carl Tausig to Zoltan Kocsis but those to which pianists most frequently turn are by Liszt. to the half dozen of these Llyr Williams has selected, he adds three more: his own arrangements of Glenn Gould’s Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Prelude to Die Meistersinger transcriptions as well as his own version of three scenes from Parsifal. It makes for a varied and rewarding programme enriched by Williams’s velvet touch, meticulous voicing, attention to detail and judiciously graded dynamics. For me, he is at his best in the music from Parsifal (his transcription of the Good Friday Music is not dissimilar to that by Joseph Rubinstein), quite beautifully realised, as is the spaciously phrased Liebestod and the less familiar (but no less powerful) ‘Santo spirito cavaliere’ from Rienzi. What I miss in Williams’s playing is that last ounce of tension and sense of mounting excitement (Entry of the Guests and Die Meistersinger). Here and in his delivery of the Spinning Chorus (compare with the carefree Paderewski on his famous 1924 recording), accuracy and caution do not take him far enough beyond the printed page. 

Williams punctuates the transcriptions with some of Wagner’s original piano works (he admits that he learnt of their existence, surprisingly, only last year). If you too are one of those unaware that the Sorcerer of Bayreuth wrote anything for piano then you haven’t missed anything. The interminable Fantasy, Op 3, written as a 19-year-old, dribbles along with bits of second-hand Bach, Weber and Mendelssohn popping up here and there, underpinned by a portentous Beethovenian solemnity. Stephan Moller in his 1992 recording (Koch, 6/93) takes a livelier view of this, though cannot compete with Williams’s tonal finesse. The five other mercifully shorter works, no more than period curios, confirm the wisdom of Wagner’s decision to leave piano composition and transcriptions to his father-in-law. 

Gramophone

Pianist Llyr Williams explores Wagner’s rich and evocative soundworld with insightful arrangements of Richard Wagner’s operas by Franz Liszt and Glenn Gould. The album includes Williams’ arrangement of music from Parsifal and Wagner’s own piano pieces, written early in his career. A highly stimulating album.

Northern Echo

Ll?r Williams’s Wagner Without Words disc features piano transcriptions from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser, The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin and Götterdämmerung as well as three of only a handful of works the composer wrote for the piano: the Fantasy, Zürich Waltzes and this ‘Song Without Words’.

‘It’s an interesting idea: a selection of keyboard transcriptions from Wagner’s operas, interleaved with piano music by Wagner himself,’ writes critic Malcolm Hayes in his review of Williams’s collection in our November issue.

Wagner composed the elegant ‘Song Without Words’, which you can download here, in 1840 and dedicated it to his friend, the painter Ernst Benedikt Kietz.

‘My love affair with the music of Wagner began when, at age 10, I was given the Solti recording of the Ring Cycle as a Christmas present,’ explains Williams in his sleeve note. ‘Shortly afterwards I was bashing through the major music dramas at the piano, using vocal scores acquired from our local library.’

Classical-Music.com

The Welsh virtuoso’s idea of juxtaposing a selection of Wagner’s uneven piano works with transcriptions is pianophile catnip. Wagner’s "long-winded" Fantasy, written at 19, and his effusive Sonata for his Tristan muse, Mathilde Wesendonck, are the most substantial original items, surpassed by Liszt’s elaborations of extracts from Tristan, Tannhäuser and Rienzi. William’s reduction of Glenn Gould’s four-hand Meistersinger Overture and his own Parsifal arrangements are highlights. An uplifting disc. 

The Sunday Times, Hugh Cairns

It’s an interesting idea: a selection of keyboard transcriptions from Wagner’s operas, interleaved with piano music by Wagner himself But it also raises the problem that any unknown works by this ultra-celebrated figure are unknown for a good reason. Wagner’s early Fantasy in F sharp minor is a promising large-scale statement from a composer aged 19. But as with the Sonata written for Mathilde Wesendonck two decades later, the musical material lacks the focus and individuality that makes for rewarding listening, and the other Wagner items included in this programme are very slight. 

They do, however, work well as interludes between the much more elaborate operatic fantasies, which is where Llyr Williams’s fine pianism comes into its own. Among the Liszt transcriptions, the ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan und Isolde shines out as a masterwork in its own right; its surging waves ofsound are superbly shaped and paced by Williams, who has also made his own transcriptions of three scenes from Parsifal. These include his remarkable conjuring of the deep bell sounds of the castle of Momsalvat, although some Lisztian daring would have been welcome in the exotic sound-world of ‘Parsifal and the Flower Maidens’, where Williams’s approach is a shade cautious. But he excels in the gorgeously extravagant ‘Santo spirito cavaliere’ from Rienzi, conjuring splendour from figuration that can easily sound overwritten when played on a modern piano. And the ‘Spinning Chorus ‘from The Flying  Dutchman is delivered with an authentic touch of Lisztian charm. 

Performance 4 Stars, Recording 4 Stars

BBC Music Magazine, Malcolm Hayes

Although Wagner is best-known for his evening-length music dramas, he also wrote more than two hours’ worth of piano music. Welsh pianist Ll?r Williams includes six of the composer’s original piano works in a fascinating new collection. They include a somewhat long-winded Beethovenian Fantasy, an attractive Song without Words, a little set of Zurich Waltzes, and a couple of Albumblätter. Williams intersperses these with a half-dozen of Liszt’s transcriptions, including that of the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. No less enjoyable is the Entry of the Guests from Tannhauser and Elsa’s Bridal Procession, among others.

Williams also takes up Glenn Gould’s 1973 versions of the Meistersinger Prelude and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung (in which Gould overdubbed second piano part in the studio, as Williams does here, while adding a few more notes). Williams’s own suite of scenes from Parsifal is enjoyable (and radiantly played) too, adding up to a wholly convincing two-CD set.

Album of the Week, WQXR New York

As Llyr Williams points out in his introduction to this collection, Wagner wrote more original piano music than is realised – almost two hours of it in all. He includes six pieces here, only two of which are really substantial – a rather long-winded Fantasy from 1831, when Wagner was 18 and clearly in thrall to Beethoven, and the much more cogent and interesting Sonata for the Book of Mrs MW of 1853. MW was Mathilde Wesendonck, whom Wagner had met the previous year; the single-movement sonata that he dedicated to her was composed just before he started work on Das Rheingold, yet some of its chromaticisms look even farther forward, to the world of the most significant work that Mathilde would inspire, Tristan und isolde.

WiIliams interleaves these and the other, slighter original pieces – a Song without Words, the little set of Zurich Waltzes, a couple of Albumblatter – between the operatic transcriptions that are the main business of his discs. All Wagner’s major stage works are represented, from Rienzi to Parsifal, though only two pieces are based on parts of the Ring. Most of the transcriptions are by Liszt, but two – of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung, and the Prelude to Die Meistersinger – originated with Glenn Gould, who arranged the music for two pianos, the second of which he overdubbed in the studio. Williams does the same, but refines them even more, adding an extra episode to the Gotterdammerung extract. He is also responsible for the sequence from Parsifal – a three-movement suite that consists of the Transformation Music from the first act, part of Parsifal’s encounter with the Flower Maidens from the second, and the Good Friday Music that ends the third.

It’s technically superb; WiIliams is equal to the toughest challenges that Liszt presents, but always puts Wagner first. Whether it’s the sparklingly clean articulation of the Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, the ethereal chords of Eisa’s Bridal Procession from Lohengrin, or the glorious unfurling of the main theme of Rienzi in Sancto Spirito Cavaliere, everything has a sense of dramatic purpose, as well as power and tonal beauty; the colours WiIliams creates from the keyboard in Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the Parsifal suite are radiant and entrancing.

The Guardian, August 2014

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