Sunday 8 May 2016

A beautifully thought out performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 from Paul Lewis, impressive in its restrained power on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

Paul Lewis has already built up an impressive list of recordings for Harmonia Mundi not the least of which is his superb series of Schubert sonatas. Now for Harmonia Mundi he turns to Brahms, tackling the formidable First Piano Concerto along with the Ballades Op. 10. For the concerto he is joined by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Daniel Harding

HMC 902191

Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra bring a stormy opening to the Maestoso of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, op.15, gritty, full of stress and intense drama. Even when the orchestra introduction gives way to gentler music there is a feeling of intense restrained power. When Paul Lewis enters he brings a level headed, fairly restrained approach, yet when the music swells up he rises with a strength that is impressive. His control and restraint bring rewards allowing him to find the poetry and restrained emotion that lurks within. He finds a gentleness not often revealed. Harding and the orchestra also reveal some particularly fine gentler, more poetic moments. Lewis brings some exquisitely shaped phrases and, when the music rises again the underlying power is all the more impressive for the contrast. This pianist’s light fluent touch is a delight, as is the orchestra’s often fleet playing. Each climax seems to add power with some beautifully shaped orchestral phrases. They move through some beautifully hushed moments before rising thrillingly to lead to the powerful coda.

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra brings a gloriously shaped opening to the Adagio. When Lewis enters he brings a finely considered approach, beautifully phrased and paced, slowly revealing Brahms’ fine harmonies. Harding’s orchestral accompaniment is often quite magical. Both bring a rather other worldly effect, a lovely poetic vision. Lewis finds passages that are subtly firmer, stronger with Harding finely shaping the orchestral passages so well, revealing some lovely Brahmsian instrumental details. They find a suitable darkness as this pianist develops the theme over the basses before returning to the opening calm.

Lewis brings some finely sprung, energetic playing to the Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo finding passages of a more tranquil flowing beauty and revealing his fine rubato as he shapes the music. There are orchestral passages where Harding and the orchestra bring a slight portamento that all adds a real character. Lewis pushes forward through some tremendously fluent passages that bubble with life. There is a very fine cadenza that is finely shaped and some fine breadth before this pianist moves through some wonderfully fluent passages to a truly formidable coda.  

Paul Lewis’ innate musicianship always shines through in this beautifully thought out performance, impressive in its restrained power.  

The four Ballades, Op.10 open with an exquisitely laid out Andante. Here Lewis is particularly in his element, finding so many lovely moments, building through some stunningly powerful passages whilst finding lovely little rhythmic details. There is a lovely flow to the Andante, this pianist finding a rather nostalgic air. He builds subtly yet purposefully through some wonderful passages, finely shaped with moments of fine luminosity. The Intermezzo - Allegro brings fine rhythmically sprung playing with wonderfully controlled dynamics and some intensely thoughtful passages. There are some quite wonderfully hushed moments, fleeting and elusive at times. Quite wonderful. The Andante con moto rolls forward with a lovely flow, Lewis finding moments of restrained poetry. Here are some wonderfully shaped fluent passages before this quite lovely performance reaches the gentle coda.

This is the Lewis we have got to know through his Schubert.

The concerto is vividly recorded at the Stockholm Berwaldhallen and the Ballades receive a nicely rounded, warm toned recording with plenty of detail made in the Teldex Studio, Berlin. There are excellent booklet notes. 

This is a formidable Brahms disc from Lewis.

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