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