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Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall review - superlative Schubert | reviews, news & interviews

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall review - superlative Schubert

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall review - superlative Schubert

Large-scale, committed accounts do full justice to complex emotional worlds

Paul Lews, performing Schubert with immediacy and well-gauged emotional powerKaupo Kikkas

Paul Lewis secured his reputation as a leading advocate of the Viennese Classical repertoire with two releases of late Schubert sonatas on Harmonia Mundi. That was 20 years ago, but he returned to Schubert in 2022, with a release of earlier sonatas, music that requires more interpretive personality, something that Lewis can always provide.

For these Wigmore recitals (this the first, the same programme is being repeated on 1 May), Lewis presents two of the late sonatas, D840 "Reliquie" and D845, plus one of the earlier works on his new album, D664. The results are as fine as ever, without any great deviation from his recorded accounts, but with plenty of immediacy and well-gauged emotional power.

Franz SchubertThe "Reliquie" Sonata is incomplete, giving a feeling of open-endedness that the pianist must counter by presenting each of its two movements as a definite and self-sufficient statement. Lewis achieves this, here and in the other two sonatas, by presenting the opening themes with disarming simplicity, and then gradually increasing the emotional tension, before returning with a sense of deliberate naivete to the final thematic statements. The Wigmore Steinway resonates broadly in the hall’s acoustic under Lewis’s clear, precise touch. He fosters a plump, rich bass tone, well supporting the melodic lines. And when the mood grows turbulent, as in the second movement of the "Reliquie", the bass takes on a sinister, dark colouring.

D664, in A Major, begins in a more bucolic mood, which Lewis presents directly, well sustaining the innocent mood, even if Schubert lingers here longer than we might expect. The development, too, is lower on drama than in the late sonatas, but Lewis brings this music to life with energetic and impulsive bass runs. The Andante second movement relies on simple chordal textures, which again succeed largely due to Lewis’s weighty but clear voicing of the bass. In the finale, Schubert employs rhetorical devices: question and answer volleys, and short repeating phrases. Lewis finds musical justification for all these, bringing an intimate, conversational quality to the music.

The second half was devoted to the more turbulent A-Minor, D845. The opening is again light, but the composer’s inner turmoil soon raises to the surface. Often in the first movement, impulsive outbursts disrupt otherwise straightforward melodic statements, and Lewis always maintains the element of surprise. The second movement, Andante poco moto, begins so lightly as to sound ironic, but gradually descends into darker realms. That gradual transformation is beautifully judged by Lewis, as are the darker textures, weighty but cleanly articulated. The third-movement Scherzo is light but punchy under Lewis’s fingers, the simple rhythms made more erratic through some daring rubato. And the finale was suitably intense. Schubert bases the movement on a short, repeating motif, more insistent at each return. Against this, the music continually reverts to a more lyrical style. Lewis plays this out as a battle against fate, the lyrical passages becoming increasingly desperate and futile as the percussive style comes to dominate at the climax. Here, and throughout the recital, Lewis presents big, muscular Schubert but continually demonstrates that this scale is wholly appropriate for the emotional depth and complexity of the music.


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