Tuesday 9 October 2012

Truly great performances from Paul Lewis, a natural Schubertian

As my blog is intended to be informative and helpful I try to seek the most recommendable recordings. With some artists I know that I will probably be in safe hands and with others there is a likelihood of an even greater musical experience. That fine pianist, Paul Lewis, most certainly falls into the latter category.

The latest release in his Schubert recordings for Harmonia Mundi 
www.harmoniamundi.com  has the Piano Sonata No.16 in A minor D.845 coupled with the Wandererfantasie D.760, Four Impromptus D.935, Six Moments Musicaux D.780 and the Allegretto D.915
HMC 902136.37 (2CD)
There is a lot of emotional ambiguity in Schubert’s music which is so full of poetry and pathos yet combined with his love of dance rhythms. It takes a fine artist such as Paul Lewis to reach into these opposing emotions.

Paul Lewis’ recording of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas, D840, D850 & D894 on Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com (HMC 902115.16) were nominated for this Instrumental Category of the 2012 Gramophone Awards www.gramophone.co.uk.This new release is no less fine.

Dating from 1822, the year of the unfinished eighth symphony, the Wandererfantasie D.760 could pass for another sonata such is its structural cohesion. From the opening there is formidable playing of power, breadth and assurance, full of Beethovenian drama.

Lewis at times brings out the darkness and anger in the Adagio contrasted against the lighter episodes where there is beautifully limpid and fluent playing. After a superbly done Presto full of life, emotion and fire, the finale, for all its forward thrust and sense of abandon, has great warmth and humanity.

The second set of Four Impromptus D.935 dates from 1827. There is plenty to engage the ear in this performance. In the first Impromptu, Paul Lewis brings out the changeable mood and rhythmic nature of the music with many wonderful little details. The second Impromptu is full of Schubertian wistfulness whilst the third, a set of variations on a theme from Rosamunde, flows beautifully with wonderful phrasing that lifts the music perfectly. The fourth Impromptu, an allegro scherzando, full of stamping rhythms, is never overdone yet with some thrilling playing.

Lewis brings power and assurance to Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.16 D.845 that allows Schubert to sound like the formidable composer he had become by 1825 when this work was written. There is the gravitas of Beethoven combined with the fantasy of Schubert. The second movement andante has poise and grace with a beautiful flow to the music. As this set of variations continues, Lewis builds moments of fine drama, poetry and sparkling imagination.

There is a wonderful third movement scherzo full of little touches that make the music so alive and spontaneous. The trio section is quite exquisitely played. In the Rondo finale Lewis sustains a powerful rhythmic impetus with the repeated chords that have hints of the ‘Great’ C Major Symphony conceived around the same time. There is magnificent playing here with a formidable coda.

The Six Moments Musicaux D.780 from 1823-28 again allow Paul Lewis to show his ability to capture Schubert’s fleeting changes of mood. There is a beautifully paced Andantino contrasting the calm quiet beauty against the sudden outbursts of drama and an Allegretto moderato that positively dances along and calls to mind the ballet music from Rosamunde,

The fourth Moments Musicaux almost harks back to Bach only in a more romantic guise wonderfully brought out by Lewis. After the great rhythmic playing of the allegro vivace the allegretto, a minuet and trio, brings the most sensitive and thoughtful playing, drawing out all the pathos and bringing this fine performance to a conclusion.

It was an excellent idea to end this CD with Schubert’s short Allegretto D.915, another Moments Musicaux in all but name, with much of the expressivity of D.780 contained in just five minutes. Paul Lewis’ exquisite playing reveals all of this expressivity to the full.

These are truly great performances from a natural Schubertian that give enormous pleasure and insight. With first rate recorded sound and excellent notes this set looks likely to repeat the success of the Gramophone Award nominated issue. No lover of Schubert should miss this new release.

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