Tuesday 1 July 2014

A fine new release of Schubert’s late sonatas, from Harmonia Mundi, again reveals Paul Lewis as a natural Schubertian, providing some of the finest Schubert playing you will find

In October 2012 I was enthusing about a new 2 CD release from Harmonia Mundi featuring Paul Lewis www.paullewispiano.co.uk  playing Schubert. 

Now Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com have released a final 2 CD set that combines Lewis’ previously issued recording of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas D.959 and D.960 together with new recordings of the Piano Sonatas D.784 and D.958, thereby bringing together the three last great sonatas.

HMC 902165.66
Together with two previous 2 CD releases we now have all of Lewis’ recordings of Schubert’s completed late piano works.

                                       HMC 902115-16                           HMC 902136-37

CD1 features the two new recordings of this set, opening with the Piano Sonata in A minor, D.784 (Op. Posth.143). Paul Lewis carefully builds the dark opening of the

Allegro giusto. Soon there is playing of power, yet bringing out all of the emotional instability in the changing moods and dynamics. Lewis brings some magnetic quiet passages, full of intense expectation, a fine contrast with the dynamic surges. The intensely dramatic central section simply has to be heard, it is superb.

Lewis doesn’t let the mood lighten much in the Andante, the seemingly calmer opening theme still retaining an underlying tension as does the whole movement with superb control from Lewis.

The Allegro vivace, as it moves forward, is again given the same emotional changeability for all its apparent sense of direction. Here Lewis’ command of all the music’s sudden changes is superbly done, with this pianist fully inside Schubert’s turbulent sound world; and what a terrific declamatory coda.

Lewis declares a confidence in the opening Allegro of the Piano Sonata in C minor, D.958 yet, as the movement progresses, the same emotional turbulence is brought out. Lewis moves beautifully and seamlessly from the quieter cantabile passages to the bursts of drama. He takes the sudden rushes forward so naturally, there always being a forward flow, at times with an unstoppable quality. His fluidity is terrific, as is his sense of overall structure – he always knows exactly where he is going.

The Adagio seems to develop seamlessly from the coda of the allegro with Lewis bringing out a sense of underlying expectancy so that, when the music moves forward, rhythmically and dynamically, there is a natural feeling of greater depth.

There is a lovely flow in the Menuetto Allegro – Trio with playing of the utmost care as well as lovely phrasing before the Allegro brings terrifically fluid playing, fine control of dynamics and superb phrasing. Lewis brings terrific energy to this music, full of fire and life and yet his sense of control is so natural. The lovely second subject is magically done before speeding to the coda where he sets such a fine tempo with all the textures showing through. There is such bounce and energy to his playing whilst knowing just when to ease back.

The recordings on CD2 of this set were made in 2002 but still show clearly Lewis’ Schubertian magic.

The Allegro of Piano Sonata in A major, D.959 opens confidently before falling to quieter, rather intricate passages to which Lewis brings much fine care. Again he controls the dynamic surges so well. In fact Lewis handles all of Schubert’s odd, sudden changes so well, immersing them into the whole, showing Schubert’s overall invention to be completely logical. He has such lovely phrasing and a very fine cohesion of thought here, never allowing the movement to appear sprawling. There is an exquisite hushed coda.

The Andantino opens serenely yet with a melancholy feel. With Lewis, one feels that some drama can only be just around the corner such is his sense of tension. Centrally the music becomes dramatic with some terrific strong scales and trills from Lewis, full of intensity and sudden explosion before returning to the opening calm, almost imperceptibly. But the calm always seems to have an underlying drama now.

Lewis brings a lightness of touch to this brilliant Scherzo Allegro vivace with more rapid downward scales. There is a much lighter mood with moments of fun. The Trio Un pocco più lento section has a lovely rhythmic halt to it before gently easing back into the Allegro vivace where there is some superb playing, such a terrific lightness of touch.

As the Rondo Allegretto moves smoothly forward, Lewis provides a lovely, seamless forward flow. This is some of the finest, most fluent playing I have ever heard with the Allegretto developing so naturally in some of Schubert’s finest invention, seemingly growing organically, with a natural rise and fall, in this pianist’s hands.

There is a beautifully poised opening to the Molto moderato of the Piano Sonata in B flat major, D.960, building superbly as the music becomes more dynamic. Again there is Lewis’ lovely rhythmic bounce. Such care is given to every little nuance whilst the whole develops so naturally and organically. During the course of this substantial first movement Lewis brings power, authority, poetry and his superb touch, phrasing and dynamics. There are some heart rending, beautiful moments particularly in the passage leading back to the recapitulation.

The Andante Sostenuto opens darkly before lightening somewhat, with much poetry brought out by Lewis who brings a quiet, resigned feel to the music. The second subject is full of power before the return of the opening tempo where the feeling of resignation develops an hypnotic intensity.

The Scherzo Allegro vivace con delicatezza brings a lovely, light and happy mood with Paul Lewis providing such beautifully free playing, so full of life. There is a delightful little Trio section nicely pointed up by Lewis.

The Allegro, ma non troppo opens with an innocent little theme but this final movement, for all its happier mood, is not without its dramatic passages. When Lewis brings out these dramatic passages they seem all the more shocking. As we are returned to the little opening theme it now seems to fit, particularly with Schubert’s dynamic counterpoint. As we head towards the coda there is some terrific playing, full of strength and control, before the innocent little theme returns only to be taken over by a tremendous dynamic end.

This fine release makes one fall in love with Schubert’s late sonatas all over again. Paul Lewis is, without doubt, a natural Schubertian providing some of the finest Schubert playing you will find. To listen to the last three sonatas in such fine performances is a special experience.

Both discs are finely recorded and there are excellent booklet notes.

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