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International Piano interview – September 2021
My Unexpected Year of Covid, Kids and Kenya – Classical Music Magazine blog 2021
BBC Music Magazine – “Rising Star” interview
International Piano Magazine – “One to Watch” interview
Gramophone Playlists ‘Messiaen’s world’
The Tablet interview

It is sometimes said, only half-jokingly, that Schubert didn’t write for the piano, but against it. Even among the most expert, seasoned Schubert players, one seldom escapes the sense that, here and there, particular technical demands have been met only by tremendous effort, with the seams still visible, as it were. What a pleasure then to encounter Schubert’s great C minor Sonata, the centrepiece of Cordelia Williams’s extraordinary new release, ‘Nightlight’, in a performance so fully inhabited, probative and heartfelt. Williams is at one with this music to the extent that physical constraints seem to disappear. For all the architectural grandeur of the opening Allegro, she brings subtlety and contrast to its urgent rhetoric. When the purity of the voices in the Adagio‘s chorale devolves into the menacing triplets, it is a plausible psychological progression from calm self-assurance to abject terror. Its sinister undertow notwithstanding, the Minuet maintains poise and grace. The Finale‘s flight from the furies, despite its driven desperation, remains an escape inerrantly proportionate and flawlessly planned. Throughout the Sonata, her playing is always natural, unforced and supremely lyrical, yet alive to every tragic implication in Schubert’s drama.

Williams’s exquisite leggiero touch is even more prevalent in Schumann’s Songs of Dawn. It is a touch particularly apt in these fragile pieces, composed over four days during the months before Schumann’s suicide attempt. Williams’s very personal interpretations discern not sickness or despair but the freshness of dawn, attaining finally an authority of utterance better experienced than described.

For all this album’s many strengths, the Schubert Sonata alone is worth the price. Williams unapologetically takes her place among the most eloquent exponents of this great work in recent years, Barnatan, Lewis, Piemontesi and Wosner included.

Patrick Rucker, Gramophone, Nov 2021

Any parent of young children will recognise the ingenuity with which pianist Cordelia Williams, author of The Happy Music Play Book, manages to eke out ten minutes of piano practice by framing it as a ‘bedtime concert’ for her two energetic toddlers. This, and similar ideas, form the heart of this new book, a useful and joyful manual to help parents with young children explore the joys of music.

Split into sections full of ideas for musical activities covering everything from ‘morning wriggles’ to bedtime lullabies and rescue kits for ‘exhausted parents’, The Happy Music Play Book is filled with flashes of humour, interesting tips and warm insight. Williams is keen to speak to all parents, not just the converted, and the book is the result of thoughtful and personal musical experience, touching on the psychology of musical learning, child development and the great benefits and joys of early musical exploration.

Sarah Urwin Jones, BBC Music Magazine, Nov 2021

It is a special sort of piano player who can be equally convincing in Scriabin, Schubert and Schumann but Williams is of that elevated order. This is wonderful stuff.

A lot of music-making is about making decisions – which note to emphasise in a phrase, whether to pull back or push on with tempo or dynamics. Time after time, Williams’ decision-making in the Schubert had me purring with pleasure. Her decision-making also has one eye firmly focused on the long view of the movement and the piece as a whole. Her performance of the strange un-minuet-like minuet is a marvel. Even the great names amongst Schubertians seem a little perplexed by this fugitive music. Perhaps it is Williams’ night time theme that helps her unlock the way the uneven phrases interlock so convincingly as though an insomniac Schubert were facing his demons in the wee small hours. Whatever the prompt, Williams catches the mood peculiarly well both here and in the finale. In not straining to find high tragedy, she brings the music closer in character to the other two of Schubert’s last piano sonatas. There is the bitter-sweet tang. There are the fleeting moments of sensual delight and of joy mixed with deep sadness and nostalgic regret. It all passes under her attentive fingers. The first two movements are just as good; this is one of the great performances of this sonata and I hope it gets due consideration and doesn’t get lost in this collection. Williams has already shown her affinity for Schubert on her 2014 disc of the Impromptus, including a sublime account of D935 No. 3, but this is even finer. I certainly am panting for her to record the other late Schubert sonatas.

If her account of the Schubert achieves greatness, her account of that black sheep amongst Schumann’s piano music, Gesänge der Frühe, qualifies as a stunning revelation. Williams seems to be communing with Schumann’s troubled spirit. This is music that could only have been written by someone who has only just made it through the dark night of the soul to the uneasy relief of the dawn. Williams finds astonishing beauty in these pieces that had me shaking my head in wonder. The dawn is, of course, the destination of the theme of the disc but I was moved by the way she evokes how we are changed by the experience of the night, whether literally through sleeplessness, or as a restive child, or metaphorically.

…the highest praise for Williams’ consummate artistry. This is not some vapid thematic collection designed solely to massage the performer’s ego. Every piece here is delivered with the utmost care and attention to musical matters first. This is what enables her to deliver such a thoroughly convincing collection, with the Schubert and Schumann touching real greatness.

I will end this review where I began by asking again – why is Cordelia Williams not better known?

David McDade, MusicWeb International, Oct 2021

The disc opens with Mozart’s unsettling, almost hallucinatory Fantasia K.397, here played with a brooding intimacy, perfectly paced and poised. The pedalling here is exquisitely managed, creating a romantic, ambiguous wash of harmony…

An exceptionally fine performance [of Schubert’s Sonata D958] which is sensitive to Schubert’s quixotic shifts of mood and harmony. The Adagio has a special stillness in its opening before descending into a darker, more psychotic realm… Thoughtfully conceived and exquisitely performed, Nightlight is also notable for the fine sound quality of the recording – a perfect mix of warmth and colour, intimacy and depth. This could well be my album of 2021. Highly recommended.

Frances Wilson, Crosseyedpianist.com, Sept 2021

One of the most superbly balanced, involving and profound programmes I have come across in a long while… Inspiring though the programme here is, it would mean little were it not for Williams’ superlative performances. Miraculously, she not only shines a new and perceptive light on each of these works, but equally illuminates the emotional logic which binds them together… Brilliance follows brilliance… Cordelia Williams’ Nightlight proved an easy choice for this month’s Recording of the Month, the heavenly mixture of sensational repertoire and outstanding playing rising above the noise: this truly marvellous recording simply has to be heard.

Andrew Eales, pianodao.com, Aug 2021

A brilliant album.

Apple Music, Aug 2021 (Top ten classical ‘must-hear’ albums of the month)

Ranging from Mozart to Bill Evans, this superbly programmed recital explores night and its uncertainties and fears… but with a peaceful ending. Williams is as at home in the wilder moments of Scriabin as she is serenading us with Schumann.

Jeremy Pound, BBC Music Magazine, Oct 2021

Cordelia Williams is clearly a lady who likes fascinating juxtapositions of pieces (think of her Bach and Pärt album) and who enjoys exploring the gold hidden in the corners of the piano’s repertoire. She seems to hit gold on both fronts on her most recent disc, Nightlight… Here, Mozart, Scriabin, Liszt, Schubert, Thomas Tomkins and Bill Evans all rub shoulders, culminating in – joy of joys! – Schumann’s Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133, the exquisite fruit of that composer’s troubled late period.

[On Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasy] Williams captures all of the elemental power of the first movement Andante; her finger dexterity in the Presto finale (there are two movements) is remarkable, as is the way she allows each detail to speak while capturing the exquisite curlicues – like the rising smoke trail of an incense.

Cordelia Williams’ performance is exquisite.

Colin Clarke, Classical Explorer, Aug 2021

This is a superb concept, enhanced by Michael Quinn’s fascinating notes. Both Bach and Pärt share a religious aspect and concision of expression. The sheer clarity of Williams’ Bach – two absolutely equal hands, voices chasing each other playfully – lends qualities of purity and truthfulness to her readings… The consoling nature of the Pärt pieces hangs hauntingly in the air, the temporal distance between the two composers subsidiary to their shared fundamentals.

Williams has the ability to mesmerise in Pärt, creating stillness, even timelessness. Caught in a fine recording, this is a magnificently stimulating concept, brilliantly realised.   

Colin Clarke, International Piano, Jan/Feb 2019 on Cordelia’s third CD

Williams’ clarity is complemented by exquisite phrasing and musical sensitivity, a tender intimacy and simplicity in the works by Pärt, and elegance of expression in the Bach Inventions and Prelude.

Frances Wilson, Crosseyedpianist.com, Feb 2019 on Cordelia’s third CD

Particularly impressive is her rhythmically subtle, poetic and painstakingly detailed approach to Davidsbündlertänze. This performance shows an artist who is aware of how to manipulate and control rubato whilst remaining within the requisite stylistic limits and never risking vulgarity. Williams’ phrasing never fails to disappoint in an account which is impeccable technically, totally uninhibited, and brimming with joy and abandon in the famously energised movements…

Rarely can a young artist have displayed such maturity, control, taste and stylistic sensitivity so early on in their recording careers.

Murray McLachlan, Piano Journal, December 2016

This stylish player has united two of Schumann’s most devastatingly original early works and his last piece for the instrument, the Theme with Variations in E flat, or Geistervariationen (1854). Schumann made his one-way journey to the Endenich asylum after completing this short but infinitely touching neglected opus. The theme is from the slow movement of his Violin Concerto; the five variations are translucently handled, the sign-off utterly undemonstrative. Williams makes it seductive, and is commanding and sensitive in her accounts of the complex masterpieces of the 1830s.

Paul Driver, Sunday Times, July 2015 on Cordelia’s second CD

Williams seems to devour the score, her virtuosity a match for Schumann’s demands. She stretches and shapes the phrases with rare insight into the nature of longing and irrepressible love, mixing the expensive tones of the Steinway Concert Grand – the glistening bass, the birdsong treble, the golden middle – into a turbulent love story of redemptive power.

Rick Jones, rickjonesmusicblog.blogspot.co.uk, July 2015 on Cordelia’s second CD

… a recital that conveyed both breathtaking virtuosity and deep emotional connectivity with the music. She led us into the fantasy world of Robert Schumann with his rarely played Davidsbundlertanze… Miss Williams clearly has an affinity with this composer and held us spellbound through the 18 dances.

Jon Hampton, Salisbury Journal, October 2014

The pianist, Cordelia Williams, proffered a programme that superbly illuminated her significant musicianly gifts. Her performances of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K.511, Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6 and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie, Op.61 – wide-ranging in their technical and emotional demands – were dazzling.

Features that will long linger in the memory are too many to detail minutely, but here are a few! A technical facility to die for – finger dexterity, delicacy of touch, a powerful strength, (particularly in her left hand), expert pedal control, refined use of dynamic contrast. Then we consider her poise, her most sensitive feeling for phrasing, her unfailing ability to reveal the beauty and importance of inner parts, her lyrical delineation and her ever-present sense of poetry. Finally, there is her constant pursuit of stylistic authenticity; her Mozart reading possessed a truly classical purity, whilst her Schumann and Chopin performances were warm, passionate and thoroughly romantic.

Brian Payne, The Westmorland Gazette, November 2014

On the evidence of this new recording [of Schubert’s complete Impromptus], it’s not hard to understand her success. Her playing has a warmth and finely judged flexibility that are immediately attractive… The spontaneity of the performances, as well as the beauty of the piano tone, … linger in the mind.  

Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine, September 2013

Williams’ brilliantly fluid technique and unassuming mastery of the piano is to the fore on this recording which promises much for the future.

Classic FM review (Classic FM Drive Featured Album, 15-19 July 2013)

Absolutely stunning!…Beethoven might have composed his G Major Piano Concerto with Cordelia in mind…Right from the first notes of the simple introduction ushered in by the piano and all through the hymn-like second movement we all knew that this young pianist had come as close to Beethoven’s mind and spirit as it was possible to be.

We are convinced that Cordelia’s debut recording of the Schubert Impromptus and 17 Ländler will serve to win her a place among the élite of the young rising stars of today.

Siva Oke, SOMM Recordings

Don’t be lulled by Cordelia Williams’s sweetly cool reading of the first two of Schubert’s Impromptus D899 in this recording; there’s romantic fire lurking under the surface. No 3 is almost Brahmsian in its achingly beautiful sweep, and there’s a delicious, dark brooding beneath the delicacy of No 1, D935. Crucially, the 24-year-old former BBC Young Musician of the Year manages to suffuse each of these eight miniatures with just the right degree of regret; a characteristic she exploits again in the minor key examples amid the 17 tiny Ländler, which perhaps reflect Schubert’s homesickness for Vienna when spending the summer of 1824 in Hungary.

Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, August 2013

The Cambridge Philharmonic Society Orchestra’s concert at West Road was deservedly packed out. The soloist in Brahms’ physically and musically demanding First Piano Concerto was Cordelia Williams. Cordelia is a young lady of immense gifts and enviable versatility… This was the most riveting performance of that particular concerto that I can remember in half a century and more of concert-going.

James Day, Cambridgeshire Pride, June 2012

A heartbreaking interpretation. The audience left Le Grange de Piquet dazzled by this performance… Unforgettable evening.

berlingotville.com, Vaucluse, France, October 2013

Cordelia Williams took the audience on an extraordinary musical experience; she had complete control over the keyboard. The playing showed a high degree of maturity, at the same time soft, melodic and dark. Moods were created… everyday requirements and obligations were put on hold for a little while. Floating yet dynamic, the range was large… The finale of Schumann’s “Fantasie” was played with so much presence that one could almost hear the collective sigh of relaxation when the last notes died out. That there was a standing ovation and encore were nothing more than well deserved.

Gjengangeren newspaper, Norway, April 2013

Town punching above its musical weight…

Cordelia Williams gave delightful and informative spoken introductions to the music she had chosen. In Beethoven’s late Opus 109 Sonata she progressed impeccably to the magical ending of the final theme and variations. Liszt’s Leggierezza Study displayed her dexterity, never losing the musical impetus; and she then brought his view of Swiss Lake Wallenstadt into a magical, misty focus. To complete the first half, Liszt’s Benediction was a superbly judged re-creation of the composer’s religious conviction.

After the interval Cordelia showed she could grasp the complexities of one of the keyboard’s greatest, and most extended, love-poems: Schumann’s Fantasie in C. The composer’s desperate passion for Clara rang in our ears: only a superb performance of every movement can achieve this. We had poetry, vigour and desperation, but always supreme pianistic control.

Perhaps Cordelia is herself in love: but certainly, as she took her deserved applause, the entire audience was in love with her.

Eastbourne Herald, November 2011

Beethoven’s 4th Concerto with the CBSO

Cordelia Williams brought both elasticity and poetry to Beethoven’s inward Piano Concerto no.4, so searchingly demanding of a musicianship which Williams conveyed with conviction and inner strength.

Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post, October 2011

And Cordelia thrilled us…

Concert soloists give their interpretation of a composer’s music but they seldom, if ever, tell you how they do this. Not so Cordelia Williams at St. Mary’s Church on 19th March. She came on, sat at the piano and, before playing a note, read snatches of poems that had been published alongside Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons: twelve pieces composed for a monthly music magazine. She had drawn her interpretation of the music from these poems, having regard to the Russian climate, and she wanted to share them with her audience before she played this rarely performed work. She then treated us to an extraordinary 45 minutes of Tchaikovsky’s creative genius with a succession of wonderfully constructed song-like melodies that had the audience in raptures. So much so they set a precedent by calling her back by acclamation at the end of the first half.

Her second half started with Shostakovich… the young Cordelia showed her mature technique and mastery of the keyboard in a flowing display of great power and delicate sensitivity. This was followed by Schubert’s sublime Impromptus Nos. 2 and 3. The contrast here between the aggressive dynamics of No. 2 and his soul searing No. 3 was wonderfully realised as Schubert at his very best, alas, only a year before his death. Cordelia Williams’ last item was Liszt’s Après une Lecture du Dante. Again, Cordelia first described her exploration of the poet’s verse as her starting approach to the music. She then gave a ‘barnstorming’ account of this epic (and most demanding, or even terrifying) piece of music that was spellbinding (if not stupefying) by the brilliance of her playing. It was a magnificent tour de force… This was a concert and a half.

Painswick Beacon, April 2011

Elgar’s Piano Quintet, a late and very grand work…. It was given a terrific, rhapsodic performance, one fully alive to the piece stretching the boundaries of chamber music. (Cordelia Williams with Bartosz Woroch & Pablo Hernan Benedi (violins), Evgenia Vynogradska (viola), Michael Petrov (cello) at Barbican Hall)

Peter Reed, www.classicalsource.com, January 2011

Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall is launching a new venture this season — a series of piano recitals comprising a mixture of Sunday mornings and weekday evenings. First up was Cordelia Williams… She adroitly mapped the shifting moods of Beethoven’s Op 126 Bagatelles, from the left-hand/right-hand dialogue of No 2, through the stillness and concentration of No 3, to No 4’s brusque dynamism. In Chopin Four Mazurkas Op 17 there was a fine sense of how they work together as a group. Amid the polished alertness and clarity of the playing there were moments when the underlying wildness was allowed to show through, leading to the haunting, almost exotic, introspection of No 4. Williams’ liquid finger-work in the first four of Skryabin’s Op 15 Preludes was not only deeply expressive in itself but also paved the way for an engrossing account of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Her lucid textures in Ondine allowed the music to shimmer, the spooky stillness of Le Gibet was mesmerising, while Scarbo was genuinely creepy, athletic and sinister in equal measure.

Music & Vision Magazine, October 2010

Basingstoke Concert Club’s first recital of the new season was a memorable event. It was given by the greatly talented young pianist Cordelia Williams. The programme which she presented demonstrated her formidable technique, which ranged from the quiet and delicate to the strong and forceful…

The final item in the programme was Fantasie in C op. 17 by Schumann. Before she played it, Cordelia set out her own interpretation of what lay behind the music, explaining the influence upon it of Beethoven’s music and of Schumann’s future wife, Clara Wieck, with whom he was not allowed to communicate at this time because of her father’s objections to their intended marriage. It was a very thoughtful and intriguing exposition, which she followed up with a marvellous musical interpretation of this difficult and profound work… It was a splendid concert, given by a pianist who was not only a virtuoso, but a scholarly and thoughtful one too.

Basingstoke Gazette, October 2010

Cordelia Williams’ inspiring piano recital at Emmanuel URC on Wednesday… the overall impression she gave in her recital was of elegance and charm rather than virtuosity. Of course technical prowess was there in abundance or she could never have tackled the works on her fiendishly difficult programme. But Cordelia’s mastery in this area is actually so great that it’s just not an issue.

Far more important is her obvious pleasure in playing which communicates itself instantly to her audience. Her technique is floaty and her approach lyrical, so much so that you simply can’t imagine her playing anything harsh or even unduly emphatic. Wedded to this is Cordelia’s transcending interest in the music she’s performing. Classical concertising can be overly formal and off-putting at times, so that it came as a breath of fresh air when Cordelia sat down at the piano and chatted conversationally about the three works on her programme.

The Cambridge Tab, April 2010

I cannot imagine a more perfect performance of the Liszt and Chopin – superb!

Antony Hopkins, July 2008

Cordelia Williams’ Wigmore lunchtime debut yesterday demonstrated fine tonal gradations, a gorgeous singing sound even when pianissimo, and unerring sense of phrase-shape – rare qualities in today’s barn-storming young pianists. But where necessary she could drive the music to an enormously exciting finish as she did in the finale of the Chopin B minor sonata. Her aural imagination must have been the young composer Hugh Brunt’s dream in his evocative Absentia and Sphere. The early Schubert A major sonata was played with spell-binding simplicity and natural understated eloquence in the slow movement. This was memorable playing in its limpidity and expressiveness.

Thisislondon.co.uk, September 2006

Grieg’s glorious Piano Concerto always steals the show, but this was an especially expressive, yet never under-powered performance from soloist, Cordelia Williams

whatsonsouthwest.co.uk, October 2009

In a programme encompassing sonatas by Mozart and Schubert, together with more romantic works of Chopin, Glinka and Rachmaninov, she showed remarkable empathy with these composers and always kept her astonishing technical ability subservient to the music with effortless ease. Judging by the exquisite rendering of three Chopin Mazurkas, her stated ambition to study this genre in depth is very understandable. In the highly competitive world of the concert pianist, hers is certainly a name to remember.

Surrey advertiser, October 2007

Ms. Williams played the Beethoven concerto with a refreshing compound of power, polish and wit. She demonstrated her technical skill and maturity in the first movement and produced a lyrical depth and ‘Innigkeit’ that belied her youth in the second. I have never before heard such a sparkling and witty performance of the finale.

Cambridgeshire Pride, June 2007

Cordelia’s stunning performance of Shostakovich’s Concerto no. 1 in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and Strings proved she really is an amazing talent. Seemingly possessing a lightness of touch one minute, to effusive passion the next, Shostakovich’s dynamic concerto was made to look effortless.

Salisbury Journal, January 2008

Schubert’s final sonata … a performance that balanced care and conviction. Ms. Williams proved herself a natural Schubertian, with a flowing, singing style. The Kiss of the Infant Jesus by French composer Messiaen had a unifying sense of mysticism in both birdsong and dissonance. You could almost smell the incense. In Liszt’s Danté Sonata, flair for shaping big romantic melodies was equalled by skill in balancing powerful chordal passages.

Portsmouth Evening News, January 2008

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