wed 24/07/2024

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall

First instalment of pianist's Schubert cycle like a bowl of gruel

Paul Lewis: Tamer and leveller of Schubert's dark daydreams

Paul Lewis doesn't smile much. He came to the keyboard last night with his face tuned to his usual blank-to-grim setting for the first recital in his Schubert cycle at the Wigmore Hall: a serious man with serious business. If only I could take his piano playing as seriously as he clearly thinks we should.

As the British torch bearer to the sacred Austro-German school of pianism, as a protégé of the great Alfred Brendel, as a widely garlanded critical phenomenon, Lewis shouldn't be hard to admire. Yet his stiff musical posturing and disavowal of any short-term pleasures - colour, texture, detail, flexibility - is as appetising as gruel.

Worst hit in his onslaught of po-faced musical Calvinism were the many daydreams that litter Schubert's scores. We received a change of scenery at the watery hole (that should have been a black hole) that is the middle section of the first of the Drei Klavierstücke, D 946, and we got an over-choreographed moment of drama in each coda - most satsifyingly in the Reliquie Sonata, where three gaping caesuras followed three impotent shakes of the fist. But we always remained on dry land, on earth, our souls unstirred, our mind unruffled.

Boredom set in. Several times. Overpedalling swamped the first movement of the Reliquie; poor voicing ruined the Scherzo of the Piano Sonata in D, D 850. Phrasing throughout was upset by flimsy execution. He was indulging the broader arcs at the expense of the note-to-note drama.

Since last year's Proms, Lewis has learnt how to rumple the musical surface a little. I had even thought he might have loosened up a tad, perhaps hoping we'd at least end on a high. Surely, even po-faced Lewis could see the brilliant possibilities of the child-like capering and daydreaming of the Rondo finale of the D-major Sonata D 850. But no.

We skated through it, everything smothered and smoothed by ceaseless pedalling. The musical line tick-tocked without a flicker of a smile. Character came in the form of indulgent ritardandos and sentimental decrescendos and a middle section that plodded about like Dawn French pretending to be the Sugar Plum Fairy. An unintentional lapse into humour.

The middle section was so plodding that it instantly put me to mind of of a Dawn French skit in which she tries her hand at being the Sugar Plum Fairy

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at whose teat he was suckled?

Can anybody sense a little-known journalist with a sad life trying to make a name for himself here?


Spot on, sadly.

Despite the (de rigeur) cheap jibes, I'm afraid Igor got much of it right. Lewis is technically astounding and can plant a chord (especially in the sonata in C) like few others -full and sharp- but he misjudged the character and flow of both Sonatas. The driving idea seems to have been to treat Schubert as Beethoven on steroids, ending up with an excess of frenzy and huge waves of sound, but hardly any stillness, grace, playfulness. I had the misfortune of sitting in row K and I'm still reeling from the onslaught. Midway through the D850, I felt like saying to him "OK, OK, you win, I'll do anything, just stop treating cantabile as a pure exercise in articulation and dynamic extremes as an opportunity to test the instrument's mechanics" -or something like this. hat a contrast with Emanuel Ax's superlative sensitivity and quiet grace two nights before... Lewis is a consummate pianist and will mellow down when he gets deeper into Schubert's language and spirit. But, right now, his conception of that music leaves one cold and, in a sense, punished...

Indeed, Igor is right. I listened to Lewis play the same programme on 24/3 and could not figure out what could have influenced the artist to conceive such an interpretation of Schubert. Such a wasted effort!

By miles, the most ridiculous review of any concert I've ever seen. This was a stunning recital, and not a single word of the above represents it in any way. He must either have some personal agenda against Paul Lewis, or he's just desperate to get himself noticed. In any case, it's a depressing reflection on the standard of some music writing around today, and an embarrassment to the more informed and intelligent - and honest - journalists on this website.

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