Nathan Williamson: Colour and Light
The eclecticism and stylistic contrasts characterising the works on Nathan Williamson’s newest release reveal this pianist’s knack for conceiving intelligent and freshly minted playlists of relatively unfamiliar yet worthy repertoire. Indeed, the contents and running order would make for a most satisfying and stimulating recital programme, with or without intermission.
Although William Alwyn’s Twelve Preludes from 1958 restrict each piece to a finite number of pitches, the composer’s imagination seems unencumbered by his self-imposed parameters. Williamson’s interpretation is comparable to John Ogdon’s memorable composer-supervised recording (Chandos, 11/85), and more conscientious in regard to articulation and dynamics. Yet, at times, Ogdon’s more flexible approach yields sexier dividends. In contrast to Williamson’s relatively straitlaced and literal way with Prelude No 10, Ogdon coyly toys with the pulse and projects the left-hand writing in curvier light. While Williamson rightly emphasises No 4’s motoric, quasi-Prokofievian force, Ogdon finds colourful contrasts, abetted by his more generous pedalling.
In his booklet notes, Peter Dickinson succinctly outlines the structural rigour governing his 1967 Paraphrase II, a loosely knit theme and variation set. Yet there’s nothing remotely forced about the music’s organic flow, from the terse, declamatory theme (Dickinson cites Ives but I infer Copland’s cooler head!) to the gorgeously florid polytonal arpeggios that break out in Var 3. The serious and substantial side of Dickinson’s multifaceted creativity deserves equal attention alongside his ingenuous pastiche-type compositions, and Williamson’s scrupulous pianism arguably surpasses the composer’s own extremely capable 1975 performance (Naxos, 2/12).
One must concentrate to fully absorb the protracted time-scale and slowly meted-out contrasts between static and petulant gestures throughout Elisabeth Lutyens’s 1975 The Ring of Bone. Williamson intones Lutyens’s spoken text in a deep and understated voice, abetted by his intense and incisive reading of the piano part. Personally, I prefer Helen Noonan’s vocal presence gracing Arabella Teniswood-Harvey’s recording on the Australian Move label, even though it may be hard to source.
I don’t necessarily share Williamson’s view that Anthony Herschel Hill is ‘perhaps most striking of all [this disc’s] composers … for displaying such an individual compositional voice’, but his Litany and Toccata effectively toe the 19th-century composer/pianist party line in 21st-century garb. And the two Delius transcriptions are textbook examples of how to make unpianistic music pianistic. In all, a stimulating and sometimes provocative release.