Wagner Without Words

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LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner Without Words
WORKS: Piano works; plus arrangements by Liszt and Williams of Wagner
PERFORMER: Llŷr Williams (piano)


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 Llŷr Williams’s fine pianism comes into its own. Among the Liszt transcriptions, the ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan und Isolde shines out as a master-work in its own right; its surging waves of sound 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 Montsalvat, 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. Malcolm Hayes