Notes and Editorial Reviews
The latest instalment in Paul Lewis’s Schubert series for Harmonia Mundi is as richly rewarding as its predecessor, which I reviewed earlier this year. It includes two works, the A minor Sonata and the Allegretto in C minor, which I had the good fortune to hear Lewis play live in a splendid recital just a few months ago (review). His account of the sonata in this CD set is every bit as fine as I remember his recital reading was.
The first movement of the sonata opens with a modest, almost tentative theme and it’s quite remarkable how much Schubert makes out of this theme over the next ten minutes or so. I admired especially the imaginative playing to which Lewis treats us in the development section where Schubert seems to go off into all sorts of keys during his exploration of the theme’s possibilities. Lewis leads the listener along most persuasively. In the Andante poco mosso, a theme and variations, Lewis is adept at playing with the delicacy that Schubert requires. The vivacious scherzo has more than a hint of the hunting fields and in the trio I love the rise and fall in the music, which Lewis delivers in a thoroughly idiomatic fashion. There’s an airborne feel to the way he plays the rondo finale. Here his lightness of touch is superb. I’m delighted to have a memento of a performance that I so much enjoyed last May in Chipping Campden.
Lewis is just as convincing in the Wandererfantasie. He launches into the opening Allegro con fuoco with tremendous energy but as the section unfolds he is completely successful at relaxing where necessary and in bringing the requisite light and shade to the music. There’s a fine sense of repose in the Adagio though towards the end Schubert takes us into rather more choppy waters and Lewis is fully responsive to the changed mood. The Presto bounds along on the back of some really dynamic playing but for the trio Lewis’ playing is really delicate, bringing out a dreamlike quality in the music. There’s great purpose and drive in the fugal material of the finale. Lewis is splendid here, achieving a Beethovenian sense of thrust and drama.
The Impromptus are very well done; the only thing about these pieces that is small scale is their length, as Lewis appreciates. The first of the set, in F minor, is beautifully judged and weighted. Lewis achieves a fine sense of fantasy in the central lyrical episode (2:35 - 5:25) and at its reappearance (8:25 - 10:02). He avoids the trap of taking the A flat major second piece too slowly and plays the music gracefully. Here, as on many other occasions throughout his programme, he shows himself to be a master of subtle rubato, which is so crucial in Schubert’s piano writing. He takes great care over detail in the innocent theme and variations that make up the third Impromptu, in B flat, and in the fourth piece, where Schubert reverts to F minor, he catches the playful spirit to perfection, not least through the ‘wrong’ accents.
The Moments Musicaux are less substantial pieces than the Impromtus but Lewis is no less attentive in his performances of them. Once again his sense of rubato is well to the fore in the second piece (Andantino) while the third piece, an Allegretto moderato, trips along deliciously. There’s strong rhythmic definition in the energetic delivery of the fifth piece, Allegro vivace. The sixth and final piece, an Allegretto, offers another opportunity to savour Lewis’ use of rubato. Every detail is precisely placed but it’s the hallmark of a great pianist to make all this sound perfectly natural: Lewis is a great pianist.
This is a set that is both enjoyable and satisfying. The playing is carefully considered and technically flawless. More than that, however, this is the work of an artist with a deep understanding of Schubertian style. Paul Lewis has already established a reputation as one of the finest Beethoven players currently before the public. This recital and the previous release in this series indicates that he is no less distinguished a Schubertian. The recorded sound is excellent.
– John Quinn, MusicWeb International