John Lill plays Rachmaninoff

John Lill’s rare talent emerged at an early age – he gave his first piano recital at the age of nine, and at eighteen he performed Rakhmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto under Sir Adrian Boult, and made his much-acclaimed London debut playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. His success was reflected in major prizes and in 1970 he won the most coveted of these, the Moscow International Tchaikovsky competition which led to engagements with orchestras throughout the world working with conductors such as Barbirolli, Jochum, Ozawa, Svetlanov and Rozhdestvensky.


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Review "Good playing, good recording and good value; don’t hesitate." Dan Morgan,

'Few pianists can have argued their case for Rakhmaninov's strength and nobility more gravely or imperiously ... Lill's performance of the Second Sonata, in particular, is of a magnificent, truly epic stature ... in sum, a very strong set of performances of some fascinating music'.

Listening to this latest release in John Lill's traversal of Rachmaninov's piano music, I was reminded of Brice Morrisons review of the Preludes (Nimbus, 8/98); his general comments hold equally true here. Lill is indeed plain-speaking, his approach strangely literal, coldly eschewing passion and sensuality, his emotional response stubbornly distant. I have rarely heard Rachmaninov sound less Russian.

Lill is matter-of-fact in the C sharp minor Prelude, his hard forte tone entirely unyielding (the brittleness is matched by the unsympathetic recording). The more varied and imaginatively demanding Moments musicaux show up the greatest shortcomings: No. 1 surely needs a far more supple cantabile, No. 2 a more delicate pianissimo, No. 4 an uninhibited dramatic sweep. Such limitations give a bland picture of music that relies on the performer for its full vitality and colour.
Lill's approach to the First Piano Sonata has some things in common with Idil Biret recent recording, Although Biret is more idiomatic and emotionally involved, they both sacrifice poetic subtlety and warmth for blunt pianistic gestures. Lill is rhythmically more secure, and has a stronger grasp of the work's huge structure;  Indeed, a warm and radiant sonority seems largely excluded from Lill's expressive stance.
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