This programme's connecting thread is pictures—either literally (Mussorgsky's response to Vladimir Hartmann's drawings), or in the imagination (Debussy's evocation of the Far East and southern Spain, neither of which he ever visited), or both (Liszt conveying his religious faith while depicting the Italian scene around him). In Pictures at an Exhibition there's a question-mark about Llyr Williams's willingness to depart from Mussorgsky's autograph with rather more than the occasional bass octave doubling or re-spaced chord. The opening fortissimo of 'Bydlo' is replaced with a long crescendo from mezzo piano (why?); and the fifth 'Promenade' section (before 'Limoges'), as all too often, is omitted. Bur the upside is truly impressive. Williams's technical command confounds the difficulties of 'Baba Yaga' (ultra-clear octaves at full throttle) or 'Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks', taken at a sparkling pace with no loss of detail.
The quality of his full and rounded piano sound is remarkable, too, with a wonderful range of colours to draw on—who needs an orchestral version after this? And in 'Catacombae', there's serious power with no trace of harshness.
Debussy's Estampes (Etchings), likewise, explore a Mussorgsky related world of sharp outline and atmospheric colour. Williams allows the music's brand of sophisticated spontaneity to speak memorably for itself: in the opening bars of 'La soiree dans Grenade', the dark immensity of the surrounding Spanish night is instantly suggested. And if his interpretation of 'Sposalizio' here just misses an authentic Lisztian sense of improvised naturalness, Williams portrays the Villa d'Este's fountains and the bells of Rome with much expressive power.