35 No 1.
There are elements of Williams's playing that aren't always to my personal taste. I find his touch harsh, for example; the sound he draws from the keyboard can be blunt, steely-edged. His delivery is so direct that it borders on abrupt, and every gesture is delivered with such deliberateness that it sometimes lacks a sense of spontaneity.
That was noticeable in the opening-movement cadenzas of Beethoven's Ops 109 and 110, where audible pedal changes and careful rhythmic subdivisions missed the sudden abandon that makes these sonatas so volatile. There seemed a fragility to his rigidity – a sense that any rocking the boat might throw him irretrievably off course.
And yet ... and yet Williams's performances were profoundly moving. This was breathtakingly candid playing, deep-felt conviction in every nuance but never remotely maudlin. Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words were forthright in their lyricism; the third-movement choral theme of Beethoven's Op 109 graceful in its simplicity, the first waltz variation heartwrenchingly tender.
The fugue of Op. 110 was poised and noble and in Mendelssohn's fugue the next night, the emergence of a chorale from the dense contrapuntalism was humbly, humanly triumphal. Williams communicates from and to the heart because he doesn't burden his message with extras. Such unadorned sincerity is disarmingly powerful.
Incidentally, he recorded the three Beethoven sonatas in Crail Church and the festival will be releasing a fund-raising disc. Keep an eye on www.eastneukfestival.com for details.