Llŷr Williams

Wagner Without Words

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Wagner Without Words Review

by Blair Sanderson

Llyr Williams' double CD on Signum Classics is titled Wagner Without Words, but that familiar phrase usually implies orchestral arrangements of operatic excerpts without singing, along the lines of Lorin Maazel's The Ring Without Words, or Henk de Vlieger's symphonic syntheses. Instead, this collection consists of piano transcriptions of music from the operas, as well as several of Wagner's original piano pieces, so a more accurate title would have been Wagner at the Piano. Williams provides some well-known crowd-pleasers, among them the Liszt transcriptions of the Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser, the Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, Elsa's Bridal Procession from Lohengrin, the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, and a handful more of pieces drawn from Parsifal, Rienzi, Meistersinger, and the Ring, all familiar to Wagnerites. But the most interesting selections are Wagner's piano compositions, including the Fantasy, a Song without Words, the Zürich Waltzes, Sonata for the Book of Mrs. M. W. (Mathilde Wesendonck), and the Albumblatt for Mrs. Betty Schott, all rarities, even on piano collections. These are minor pieces that show a more relaxed and private side of Wagner, and their smaller scale and intimate expressions make a striking contrast with the theatrical music. Williams plays everything with polish and enthusiasm, and while he obviously enjoys the virtuosic showstoppers, he treats the less familiar pieces with special care and sensitivity.

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