I've seen all three on multiple occasions, including a couple Bream/Williams joint recitals. Right now, i find myself ruminating on recollections of Williams. When I saw a solo recital he gave, I was in the balcony for the first half. I had been enjoying the concert immensely, but spotted a couple of vacant seats down in front of the stage. So, at intermission, I hurried down and grabbed occupancy of one of them. When the second half began, I realized that, for acoustics, I had made a mistake. Up in the balcony, one received the benefit of the surface of the stage acting like a reflecting board, which sent everything he did straight up into the rafters. Down in front, it wasn't that I couldn't still hear everything, but I had a sense that it was somehow it was all being shot over my head. However, I was excellently situated so that I could see his technique. It seemed that he had about a thousand different configurations to which he would conform his right hand as he played. I don't mean to suggest that it was just loosely flopping around, each one seemed the result of precise micro-adjustment which was quickly entered into, to a deliberately employed accuracy as to specific purpose, sometimes even if fleetingly. I had always believed and taught that rather than searching out a singular ideal right hand position in terms of closely defined small tolerances to which one then strictly adheres, that one needs to inculcate a technical envelope within which the hand can move, and adjust it's approach according to needs. It was gratifying to see this validated, while at the same time I was blown away by the manifest variety of form in which I was seeing it done.
i also find myself wanting to respond to a criticism of Williams that one does come across, i.e., that he is a technical marvel, but emotionally and musically void. I don't mean to target particularly anyone in this thread who may have suggested such; I do realize that there is a "subjectivity strikes again" factor in such discussion, and, I also do have to grant that there are a few recorded instances of his in which I have to go along with this seeming validated. But I have encountered such forwarded as a general characterization, in this forum and elsewhere, sometimes vehemently and ungraciously expressed. I think that there is a fundamental divergence of perception at work in this.
Just as a particular example, in the Bream/Williams recitals, each would have a solo portion. At one of these, a solo that Williams decided to play was the Weiss "Tombeau Sur la Morte de Mur. Comte d'Logy". Williams' performance of this had all the characteristics of his which are brought forward in these discussions. It's not a piece among those which one first thinks of as representing the highest demands of technical expertise, but it was exemplary of the absolute perfection of control and cool delivery for which he has come to be identified, And yet, it was at the same time, one of the most passionate and emotional performances i have ever heard. It is remarkable that out of a stellar concert of these two individuals at the top of their form, this is what has been the enduring memory for me.
So, that was my impression of one instance. As for the more generally operative "fundamental divergence of perception" to which I alluded, there was another forum in which, many years ago, someone had written in being so non-plussed and perplexed by the derision he had encountered among some colleagues for his "liking" of John Williams, that he was motivated to inquire whether there was, in fact, anything "wrong" with his perceptions. This, of course precipitated a long thread, which naturally took on some adversarial tone amongst some contributors. An extract from a post I contributed follows below. I apologize ahead of time if some bit of such partisan and polemical strain may have crept into how certain things were expressed; my main intent is to amplify upon such basic "divergences" as I have suggested.
">...I hear Williams getting
>so much negative and unreasonable criticism. Please tell my untrained ears
>I am missing....
Yes, John Williams is good- I see you have garnered a lot of replies, including the yawningly predictable salvos from the insular belt on this one.
You are not missing anything- we all know of his technical prowess, he has good clean tone, he plays with grace, style, and proportion- its difficult to say what it is that bugs his detractors so- perhaps in spite of their sometimes dismissal of him as a mere technician, the display of technique is actually what they miss. Maybe they need some discernable evidence of the effort involved, and if he plays as easily as if rolling off a log they feel cheated.
I've heard and read the term "restrained passion" in connection with Williams, offered in his favor by his supporters, uttered with a derisive snort by his detractors. I'm not sure about the restrained part- but perhaps those who don't "get it" about Williams demand that expressions of passion in music contain an element of something indulgent and sullying for them to detect it. You don't get a lot of that from Williams, in fact his artistry is presented with the same sort of deceptive ease as are his technical accomplishments. I suspect that those incapable of hearing this might be among those who hear no passion in Palestrina, think Mozart is either childish or stuffy, or imagine that it would be easy as pie to write like Vivaldi, or continue one of his concerti along the same line if presented with one broken off in the middle of a sequence.
Williams is in good company, there have been plenty of great artists subjected to such sniping. Luckily, he is not in a position in which he has to care about this.
There is nothing wrong with your hearing.
Someone said earlier that his programs are "light"? C'mon! His performances and recordings run the gamut of the repertoire! "
Again, my apologies- the above was more appropriate to the discussion in which it occurred, but the underlying thesis is one I think worth considering- ironically for the topic, in a more dispassionate manner.
And, as I said before, I myself have occasionally felt the same way about certain of Williams' efforts, and have also found a falling towards the reverse side of the tightrope which performance artists must traverse. Not long ago, I was writing to a colleague about one piece, and found myself saying this about an exemplary recording by Williams:
"This is, admittedly, Williams yielding to his occasional tendency to indulgence in his more bulldozerish aspect; performance-wise you may feel about this much as you did about some of the Saltarello videos you saw. Wiiliams' unleashing the full force of his formidable technical prowess to bear on pieces of fairly modest dimensions, that are less than super-human in their demands, sometimes emerges in a character of presentation similar to that that one might expect as a result of mounting a high powered Indy 500 race car engine in a Volkswagon beetle...."