Review: Piano Recital at Emmanuel United Reformed Church

For Joe Conway, pianist Cordelia Williams ‘alchemically’ turned ‘pianistic figurations into glittering ripples of water.’

classical music Cordelia Williams Emmanuel Reformed Church Piano

Cordelia Williams (piano)

21st April 1pm at Emmanuel United Reformed Church. Free

As the saying goes, good things come in small packages. Certainly as far as the Cambridge classical music scene is concerned, some of the best things undoubtedly happen in the smallest venues and involve only one or two performers. Better still – from the impoverished student point of view – many of these bite-sized concerts are absolutely free. 

All this was true of Cordelia Williams' inspiring piano recital at Emmanuel URC on Wednesday. Cordelia is a fully fledged concert pianist and was a finalist in the prestigious Young Musician of the Year competition in 2006. Yet 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.

She drew a parallel between the theme and six variations of Schubert's B flat Impromptu and the Seven Ages of Man from Shakespeare's As You Like It. Cordelia made the famous Rosamunde tune memorable by lingering lovingly at the end of the first phrase, and then brought out the unique qualities of each variation. After a pregnant pause she invested the last appearance of the theme with a valedictory, almost mystic quality. 

Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit could hardly have been more different. As impressionistic as anything Debussy ever wrote this strangely fragmented score evokes three separate nocturnal phantasms. In the first of these called Ondine Ravel's music also aims to suggest rapidly flowing streams. Here Cordelia achieved a magical transformation, alchemically turning pianistic figurations into glittering ripples of water. (Who says music critics aren't imaginative?)

To end her recital Cordelia Williams talked about and performed Chopin's F minor Fantasy. In her introduction she mentioned some of the features of this multi-faceted work, in particular its funereal opening, its heroism, its tenderness, and the improvisatory feeling that runs through the piece. It was good to hear each of these characteristics appear in turn in her performance. And, despite a tiny lapse at one point, the piece ended with a magnificent peroration that effectively summed up the whole recital.