Paul Lewis: In Recital & On DVD

Written by: Colin Anderson

Wigmore Hall, London, 9 December 2003


Adagio in B minor, K540


Kinderszenen, Op.15


Three Pieces, D946

Six German Dances, D820


Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19


Sonata in B minor

DVD – NAÏVE DR 2102 (68 minutes)

Recorded 27 July 2002 at La Roque d’Anthéron, Provence, France


Moments musicaux, D780

Sonata in G, D894

Paul Lewis. Photograph: Jack Liebeck

Symmetry and contrast were the defining ingredients of Paul Lewis’s thoughtful programme. As key-related bookends were the tragic expanse of Mozart’s Adagio and edifying complexities of Liszt’s Sonata, the latter’s unbroken 30-minute span contrasting with the brevity of Schubert Dances and Schoenberg Pieces, these two sets and the Liszt given as an uninterrupted sequence. The first half was concerned with innocence and experience, Schumann’s look-back to childhood coming between the short-lived Mozart’s and Schubert’s encountering of life.

In what would grow into a memorable recital, Lewis began with a too easily unfolded account of Mozart’s spare Adagio, which was followed by too plain a view of the Schumann. A raising of the stakes came with a suitably demonic traversal of the first Schubert Piece, albeit a little contained, circumspect with the music’s underlying drive and prescience. This was Schubert-playing musical to a fault, despite a tendency to over-pedal.

The recital’s second half was an object lesson in programme-planning, a segueing of Schubert Dances, given with simplicity and rustic vitality (and a tinge of consciousness), Schoenberg at his most fleeting – four minutes of music (same notes as Schubert, just a different order!) – and Liszt, Lewis avoiding perfume and rhetoric for a satisfyingly whole view of the grand design, heartfelt in lyricism and ennobled in climax.

Where, though, was the final bass note? I wasn’t the only one to miss it. Whether Lewis played it and it didn’t sound or he took it to dynamic evaporation or deliberately allowed it to be a ’known unknown’ one can only speculate. This was a mysterious envoi to an impressive reading that had avoided the occult to this point.

On DVD, superbly recorded, Paul Lewis plays more by the composer that might be recorded his signature, Schubert. These are focussed and concentrated performances, highly intelligent, less distracting in filmic terms than others in this Naïve series, and which serves as ample proof of Lewis’s long-term musical thinking and non-egotistical presentation. It’s a bright future!

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