Jayson Gillham is a 30-year-old pianist, originally from Queensland, who is now based in London. He has won several prizes, and his career is progressing nicely as he performs solo recitals, concertos and works with various chamber groups including the Jerusalem Quartet. He won the 2014 Montreal International Music Competition with a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, a work he recently played in Sydney as part of a national tour. Two previous solo discs are available on his website.
At the 2016 Perth International Festival, a reviewer remarked on Gillham’s “bell-like tone and… sense of expressive lyricism”. The former is certainly in evidence in this recital from ABC Classics. It informs the final Allegro movement of Schubert’s A Major Sonata, D664, giving the music a fresh and unbridled pastoral feeling. Gillham captures the improvisatory style of Bach’s Toccata, BWV911, and once the work is fully underway his playing has real sinew and finely controlled momentum.
Young pianists today (unless they are geniuses like Trifonov) fall into one of two broad approaches: either they attack music in a deconstructive way to make it sound newly minted, or they see themselves as part of a long concertising tradition and convey a respectful reticence. With Gillham we get a mixture of both, but mainly the latter. To me, the “sense of expressive lyricism” mentioned above feels more studied than spontaneous, particularly in the first movement of the Schubert and Chopin’s C Sharp Minor Prelude, polished though the pianism may be.
In this repertoire comparisons are unavoidable. Inevitably, Brendel’s Schubert seems more lived-in, more fully considered, yet conversely more straightforward. Compared to the visceral Martha Argerich in Chopin’s Third Sonata and even the Bach, Gillham tends to place inverted commas around his phrasing and dynamic shadings. Perhaps it is unfair to bring Brendel and Argerich into it at all, but Gillham’s recording sits beside theirs in the catalogues. I felt his pedalling was rather heavy in the Largo of the Chopin sonata, although it brought out a parallel to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata that had not occurred to me before. In the brief Scherzo and the finale Gillham’s virtuosity is effortless, and he is enough of a true musician to integrate the fireworks into the piece rather than simply show off (a problem
I have with Benjamin Grosvenor).
Gillham says these particular works are close to his heart, and his playing demonstrates it.