Stand-out concert pianist William Howard was at Nottingham Lakeside Arts – review

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‘He is much more than a virtuoso capable of hurling fistfuls of notes out into the audience’

William Howard, pianist

Many top international concert pianists have played in Nottingham over the past year. But even in such a distinguished line-up, William Howard stands out.

He is much more than a virtuoso capable of hurling fistfuls of notes out into the audience. He is also responsible for the Love Song Project, attracting 500 composers from 61 countries, all submitting their own highly individual songs without words. He has just recorded the best of these, playing five of them on Thursday.

But he began and ended with mainstream repertoire.

First came Janacek’s In the Mists dating from a time when the Czech composer was shrouded in the fog of despair. William Howard vividly captured its sense of unease, for example in the third movement when the deceptively innocent opening erupts into a ferocious rhythm completely transforming the mood.

There was much highly dramatic playing in Schumann’s Humoreske too as the composer presents a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting states of mind. It’s not a piece that is performed very often. At a first hearing not even the most experienced listener can hope to grasp the torrent of themes which pour from the keyboard, but William Howard’s commitment and firm grasp of the work’s architecture ensured that many will want to explore it further.

Chopin’s Scherzo No 2 and Ballade No 4 ended the programme in spectacularly virtuosic style.

But it was the five newly commissioned Love Songs which preceded them which made this such an unusual concert. Some in the audience may have chosen as their favourite any of the songs composed by David Matthews, Judith Weir, Chia-Ying Lin or Howard Skempton (and very fine they were). I think I would plump for Roses in a Box by Elena Kats-Chernin, as tenderly elegant a love song as one could wish to hear.

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