Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Wandererfantasie, Op. 15, D 760 in C major (1822) [20:24]
Four Impromptus, Op posth. 142, D 935 (1827) [34:39]
Sonata No 16, Op. 43, D 845 in A minor (1825) [35:34]
Six Moments Musicaux, Op 94, D 780 [27:12]
Allegretto in C minor, D 915 [4:52]
Paul Lewis (piano)
rec. December 2011 and March 2012, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902136.37 [55:15 + 67:58]
Paul Lewis’s Harmonia Mundi recordings of Schubert have generated universal praise, with this collection preceded by another on HMC 902115.16 (see review) which includes three of the great later sonatas and the Impromptus D899. These releases are entirely complementary, and if you have one you are sure to have the other high on your ‘must have’ list.
This set has already been handsomely reviewed by John Quinn, and I was unsurprised to see it summed as “richly rewarding”. ‘Rich’ is certainly a term you can apply to Paul Lewis’s performances, with that word applicable to his full and generous tone, superbly captured in an attractive studio resonance perfectly suited for a piano sound which is more projected than intimate. Listening along in the car on the way to a concert as one does, a musician colleague of mine indicated surprise that there was only one pianist at work, such is the breadth of tone which is delivered - and this from someone who runs their own concert hall, having as much exposure to pianists as carpenters have to sawdust.
The Wandererfantasiehasn’t always been one of my Schubert favourites, but Lewis manages to convey the stormy dramas in the music while maintaining poise, clarity and a good deal of poetry. Following the score just makes you realise quite how miraculous a technical feat such a performance is. My ears have recently also been learning more about this work through Viviana Sofronitsky’s fortepiano, and with this eminent and sensitive interpretation from Paul Lewis I consider my conversion to the work complete.
The Impromptus D 935 have held their spell through numerous interpreters, and the Decca recording of Radu Lupu has remained something of a reference (see review). Comparing Lupu with Lewis I am reminded of why the former is so involving: with such a variety of colour and expression in the piano sound one can hardly avoid being transported into other worlds. Lewis comes close to this, with contrasts in timbre and texture very much a quality in the sound. Lupu is more overtly dramatic, for instance in the loud answers to the thematic statements in the second A flat major Allegretto, where the emotions are stretched between soothing repose and gnashing angst. Lewis builds more in these episodes, shaping and integrating them more as outpourings from the same voice, rather than seeing the contrasts as a conversation between two opposing characters.
Comparing the same sets, Lupu is more expansive in much of the Sonata D 845’s opening movements, the Moderato first movement sounding more like an unstoppable juggernaut when compared to Paul Lewis’s sense of flow and momentum. The second movement is also traversed with a lightness of touch from Lewis which is almost hypnotic, setting us up for a Scherzo which wrong-foots every expectation. I can’t say I have a clear preference for Lewis or Lupu in the last two movements, but Lewis brings plenty of fresh thoughts to the table, heightening our sense of expectation with subtle dynamic lifts and points of harmonic drama from which notes and inner voices are brought out with fine acuity of touch. This D 845 is like a fine painting from which you can take away new things every time.
A recent experience with the Moments musicaux from Valery Afanassiev on ECM New Series 2215 made me more than usually ‘up for’ a new but more mainstream recording, and hearing Lewis’s less controversial and more warmly welcoming performances has restored my faith more than somewhat. As has been pointed out before, Paul Lewis’s feel for Schubert’s idiom is natural and sensitively balanced against the need for personal judgements in terms of expression. Lewis doesn’t seek to present Schubert with artificial impositions, allowing the enlightened humanity of his genius to speak as communicatively as possible. Others have done this before of course, and Radu Lupu is just one of many who still come highly recommended and hold ‘classic’ status of one kind or another. Paul Lewis joins these greats and former greats with unpretentious ease.
With fine booklet notes by Roman Hinke and Harmonia Mundi’s sensible gatefold packaging, this is a Schubert recording to relish for many years to come.
A recording to relish.
see also review by John Quinn
Masterwork Index: Schubert piano sonatas