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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Sonata No. 2 in A Flat, Op 39 [32:26]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in B, D575 Op. posth [25:08]
Paul Lewis (piano)
rec. 2017, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902324 [57:34]

Paul Lewis is one of the best Schubert interpreters around nowadays and it is always a pleasure to listen to his performances. In this recording he has paired the lesser known Schubert Sonata in B Major with Weber’s second Sonata in A Flat. Both these works were written at roughly the same time by composers who straddled the Classical and Romantic traditions. Both composers suffered early and tragic deaths and both made important contributions to the piano repertoire.

For some inexplicable reason Weber’s four piano sonatas are rarely performed nowadays. Cortot, Richter, Gilels and Arrau all championed the Weber sonatas and they all left recordings. The younger generation of pianists are gradually being drawn to them and it is good to see a pianist of Lewis’ stature championing the A Flat Sonata. The opening Allegro moderato has a gorgeous easy flowing lyricism and one cannot help but be captivated by Lewis’ beauty of sound. The music has a meandering quality which Lewis delights in, but without losing sight of the work’s overarching structure. The Andante second movement opens in a spare halting fashion and the music gradually blossoms out in an enchanting way. Descending triplets signal the arrival of more dramatic material and Lewis summons a range of orchestral sonorities to produce a thrilling climax. The Menuetto bristles with energy and Lewis’ exemplary control over textures and dynamics unleashes the capricious elements in the music. The finale is a little on the slow side for my taste although Lewis is within his rights to adopt this tempo as the movement is marked Moderato e molto grazioso. His performance is intensely musical, savouring every nuance and harmonic twist and turn of the music while imbuing the melodic line with sensitivity and grace.

Schubert composed his Piano Sonata in B in 1817 just after he had stopped teaching at his father’s school. The thematic material and harmonic language are striking and show the young composer adopting a more Romantic idiom. This sonata is perhaps not quite as well known as some of the other Schubert sonatas so I hope this superb performance will lead it to it having greater public exposure. Lewis opens the work in an arresting way, keeping the dotted rhythms incisive and weighting the chords perfectly. The lyrical material has a haunting quality which contrasts markedly with the ensuing episode, which is a moment of pure Viennese enchantment. Lewis’ performance of the song-like Andante is deeply affecting and captures the sad painful feelings in the music. The scherzo is light and playful and Lewis uses a range of perfectly calibrated dynamics to excellent effect. He plays the rollicking finale with joie de vivre using the jaunty triplets to drive the movement to its winning conclusion.

Lewis’ performance of both sonatas is first rate and compares well with the very best in the catalogue. I very much hope he will turn his attention to the other three Weber sonatas in the future.

Robert Beattie

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