The Young Beethoven, City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

Four stars

I FOUND the structure of Glasgow’s Beethoven series at the weekend, dividing the music between Young, Mature and Late periods in the composer’s life, a refreshing approach to presentation of the music, with one qualification, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Equally refreshing, however, was the evident maturation of the artists involved. I realised on Friday night that they have been growing into this too. I must have been reviewing pianist Llyr Williams for around a decade now. His performances of the Pathetique and opus 31 no 3 Sonatas were rich in depth and texture, way beyond his early days, when he recorded everything he played, then crucified himself in his search for the steel-y perfection with depth he has now attained, though I have no doubt he would disagree that he’s there yet.

And the Elias String Quartet, to judge from their playing of the two opus 18 Quartets, nos 1 and 5, which they delivered so effectively on Friday, has also matured. It seems to me that they have Beethoven’s endless surprises and abrupt turns more at their command and in their control. They are not taken off-guard or caught unawares by Beethoven’s frankly-volatile imagination. These were thoroughly-engaging performances from Williams and the Elias.

I’ll just touch on one issue, which is nothing to do with the players, and needs some space to tackle head-on. Presenters and commentators give far too much space, time and emphasis, in discussing “early” or “young” Beethoven, to the influences of Haydn and/or Mozart, unwittingly, perhaps, at the expense of awareness of Beethoven’s own staggeringly originality. This has to be addressed.