John Lill's renown and reputation as one of the finest pianists performing today is righteously earned if the recital of a wide-ranging repertoire of piano pieces at SJE Arts on Friday night is anything to go by. I had not attended a concert at St John's before and was concerned by the chilly austerity of the church and quietly expectant hush of the audience - I half-expected a Morse-type murder before the performance began. The introduction to the concert was also faint and echoey and I was apprehensive about how good the church's acoustics would prove to be. However the setting proved perfect for Lill's restrained and undemonstrative style and both the Steinway he played and also the sound quality in the venue proved to be excellent.
The concert opened with a Mozart sonata, which was played with exacting precision and whilst eloquent, particularly during the Allegro first movement, overall I felt lacked some emotional depth. My response to Schumann's Carnaval de Vienne was similar – I was enthralled by the precise playing but yet again did not feel emotionally connected to the piece: I found the casual playing of the Scherizino a trifle superficial and struggled to connect to the piece as there were no ringing chords to resonate with until the end of the sonata. However these concerns were belied by Lill's virtuoso interpretation of Prokofiev's tricky Toccata, Op. 11 which he played with passion, flare and finesse, ranging up and down the scale with prolific and precise fingering, as the piece built to a resounding crescendo. Lill ended the piece, and the first half, with a flourish and smile of accomplishment which was met with enthusiastic applause.
At the opening of the second half of the concert Lill beguiled the audience with an intimate and subtle exploration of Brahm's late work Three Intermezzi. He explored a range of profound and melancholy melodies, eloquently transmitting the piece's bitter-sweet tone through precise playing of the arpeggios and by exploring the nuances of mood in the piece. This led to the performance of the final piece, my most anticipated, and the recital's technically most complex work - Beethoven's Sonata 32. This was played with precision, verve and commitment. The almost strident depths of the base chords were at counter-point to the complex trilling of the treble and higher notes and at times Lill, the Steinway and the hall achieved harmonies and reverberations I had not experienced before, which plucked my heart strings and provoked my imagination. At the end the audience and Lill were replete in their satisfaction of this display of virtuosity.
I greatly enjoyed the concert and was delighted to have the opportunity to attend a John Lill recital and experience first-hand (or more importantly first-ear) the skill and passion which underpin his renown and reputation. The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, which had initially seemed chilly and austere had nevertheless ultimately felt like an intimate, almost salon-like, venue with great acoustics. I found this recital by John Lill at SJE Arts an enlightening experience which I shall certainly attempt to replicate in the future.