Review: John Lill (piano)

John Lill: an authoritative performer

John Lill: an authoritative performer


John Lill (piano)
NCH, Dublin

Beethoven – Piano Sonatas in C minor Op 13, Pathétique ; In D major Op 28, Pastoral ; in F Op 54; In F minor Op 57, Appassionata .

John Lill’s playing of four Beethoven piano sonatas is insightful and always absorbing. His main purpose seems to be to reveal Beethoven’s music unmediated by his own ego. Initially, it seems the epitome of letting the music speak for itself. However, after such an uplifting experience, I realise this ideal is an absolutist fantasy rooted in the authority of the score and the composer’s intentions. As Richard Taruskin wrote in an article headlined “Letting the music speak for itself”, the ideal suggests “hostility, contempt, or at least mistrust of performers”. Music, he concludes, can never speak for itself unless it is electronic. There is always an interpreter, who has to face the fact that composers’ intentions for performance have never been as defined as many might like.

That makes Lill’s achievements all the more praiseworthy. The design of the programme, with two sonatas in each half, all arranged chronologically, shows impeccable judgment of contrast and forward progression. Each of the four sonatas brims with authority, with deep understanding, and with command of detail and of the work as a whole.

Such authority comes from Lill’s lifetime of experience with Beethoven’s music, for which he has a deep and internationally recognised affinity. Lill is an interpreter; but the authority of his decisions and practice rests on his conviction that the music is bigger than he or we are.