Paul Lewis plays Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Impromptus, D935
Moments Musicaux, D780
Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer)

Paul Lewis (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 17 November, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

For the second time of asking this week, Paul Lewis graced Wigmore Hall with this Schubert programme of pieces that are ostensibly on a smaller-scale than the movements that occupy the composer’s piano sonatas. The second set of Impromptus comes close to making a sonata though. Lewis made something significant of each one, sternly announcing the First, releasing its self-generating properties and then melting into an affecting reverie, the pianist’s incisive and malleable approach sounding superbly immediate and open on this particular Steinway in the splendid Wigmore acoustic. The eloquent song and contrasting ripple of the next piece were also moving. From there to the innocent Theme and ingenious Variations (from ‘pub piano’ to pathos via melodrama) and, then, the gawky high spirits of the Fourth Impromptu, Lewis punching hard and also floating like a butterfly.

For all that the Six Moments Musicaux became a collection in retrospect, Lewis made these ‘momentary’ inventions into a unified whole without losing their spontaneity, capturing their range of moods unerringly, if a little abruptly at times and also over-reading the small print (which Alfred Brendel and Clifford Curzon were so adept at slotting into place without drawing attention to it). Here the familiar Third piece was jaunty and the Sixth was a rapt benediction with a goodly silence at the close to reflect on the wonder just heard. Finally (there was no encore), the great ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy – heroic, daring, toothsome, and with a spirit of endeavour, all wrapped into a compact 4-in-1 structure. In many ways Lewis gave a formidable account, gravely serious – a lighter touch and greater humour would have been welcome at times though – but it was rock-like with reflective tendencies, and if some accents really seemed too aggressive then the triumphant finale was a flood of vibrant fortissimo and unflinching virtuosity.

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