Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

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John F
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Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by John F » Tue Aug 02, 2016 3:00 am

Schubert’s Final Acceptance, Rueful as Always
By DAVID ALLEN
AUG. 1, 2016

The British pianist Paul Lewis, 44, is one of today’s finest exponents of Schubert, noted for his clarity of tone and simplicity of interpretation. I asked him to talk about a single page of Schubert’s piano music; he chose the final page of the slow movement from the Sonata in B flat (D. 960), Schubert’s last. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.



Of all of Schubert’s pages, why this one?

Well, there’s so much that is true Schubert in it, but it still occupies a unique place, this slow movement in the last sonata. In Schubert, there’s this sense of acceptance, I feel. Whereas Beethoven always seems to find an answer, Schubert almost never does. It’s so apparent here, in such a heartbreaking way.

As you come into this last page, there’s a sense of reaching out for something that you can’t quite reach, that you can’t quite get. When you get to the top, you haven’t got it — but there’s a breathing out, an accepting that that’s how it is. Then, to go from C sharp minor into this unbelievable C sharp major moment in triple p. When Schubert uses the major like that, it’s anything but a resolution. It’s not a reassurance, either. It’s not that everything is going to be all right — nothing is going to be all right. It’s just about accepting the way things are. That’s so Schubertian as an idea, and it’s so wonderfully conveyed in this page.

In the left hand, there are these neurotic 16th notes that don’t go away.

Schubert can be very insistent about certain things, and the fact that you get this repeated every bar, over such a long space of time — there’s something that he doesn’t let you escape from. I remember years ago I was doing the “Impromptus,” and in the first impromptu of the first set you get these repeated triplets. I always thought that that was background. Then I was working on “Winterreise” with [the tenor] Mark Padmore, and in “Der Wegweiser” you get this single note that’s repeated. You get it in “Die Schöne Müllerin.” And it made me think that these repeated figures are not accompaniment at all: this feeling of not being able to escape something, which is of course in keeping with this irresolution, this inability to resolve.

Which other pianists appeal to you in this B flat sonata, in this movement?

There are so many. But with Wilhelm Kempff there’s that feeling of introspection, the way he does it. It’s totally unpretentious, and totally unsentimental — there’s this inevitability about it, without it being too direction-oriented. That’s something to aspire to.

The temptation with this last page must be to keep slowing down, to make it sentimental.

Exactly, and I think it’s a bit of a mistake. Edwin Fischer had this amazing ability to stretch a pulse, so it doesn’t sound like it slows down. You feel that there’s a continuity, it feels integrated. There’s this space that Schubert inhabits, you can’t force it. You could be listening to this movement forever, it has that feeling of timelessness. That’s what I try to create. And as far as being sentimental, this music is beyond sentimental, it’s gone beyond that point. It’s too internalized, too deep-rooted.

When we turn over, into the scherzo, are we in a totally different world?

Yes and no. Of course, the character is totally different. The question is, where do you go after this? There’s nowhere else to go.

So there’s a sense of finality to this page.

It’s almost like two different sonatas, but it’s not. I’m not religious, but the point you reach here, there’s a sense of going over to the other side: You’ve got to the end of this particular road and then something else opens up.

Is the sonata related to Schubert’s approaching death from syphilis, then?

There’s speculation about how aware he was, at this point, that he was going to die in a few months. For me, the main point about that comes back in 1823, when he got the diagnosis. The A minor sonata (D. 784) is the point when everything changed: Suddenly this austere, incredibly bleak and brutal way of writing, that didn’t exist before.

Here, I’m not convinced that there’s anything in this sonata that really is a final statement. The acceptance, that aspect of his music is not a new thing. You often hear people talk about it being valedictory in some way. I don’t really see that. It doesn’t signify the end of something for me, but acceptance, and regret, and nostalgia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/arts/ ... -flat.html
John Francis

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by maestrob » Tue Aug 02, 2016 1:44 pm

Wonderful interview with one of his generation's greatest musicians. Thank-you for posting this.

barney
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by barney » Tue Aug 02, 2016 5:33 pm

maestrob wrote:Wonderful interview with one of his generation's greatest musicians. Thank-you for posting this.
Second that. Thanks, John.
I've heard Lewis a few times and even interviewed him: as here, he was polite, articulate, interested and involved, which speaks volumes for his character.

jbuck919
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:11 pm

Why this page? The answer seems to me clear. At the risk of arousing Donald Isler's ire, Schubert's sonatas are uneven, with many long boring passages, but this is not one of them. The first time I heard one was as a boy on a TV broadcast from channel 13 in NYC. I had my piano lesson with dear old Mrs. Troidle the next day and shared my impression. Far from contradicting me, she said "Schubert was great, but dear God, sometimes he didn't know when to stop."

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by John F » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:23 pm

For me, there's not one moment too many in this particular sonata - providing the first movement repeat is not taken, because the leadback music is unworthy of the rest of it. Some other movements by Schubert don't sustain their interest, at least not for me; a prime example is the finale of his 6th symphony, which just rambles on and on. But generally speaking, Schubert's lengths are heavenly, as the man said.
John Francis

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Beckmesser » Wed Aug 03, 2016 3:39 pm

Paul Lewis was at Tanglewood this past week.

On Sunday afternoon he gave an exciting performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, but for me the special treat was hearing him on Friday night with pianist Jonathan Biss in a performance of Schubert's Fantasy in F Minor.

After hearing that, I was inspired to pull out my score and start practicing it again.

barney
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by barney » Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:02 pm

If I could listen to only one solo piano piece from now until my death - a silly idea, I admit - it would be this one.

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Holden Fourth » Wed Aug 03, 2016 8:12 pm

This movement both starts and concludes Bruno Monsaigneon's "Richter the Enigma". I really like the way that Richter plays this. He, also, was not given to being overly sentimental and in this work he truly let's the music speak for itself.

It's a piece that I also enjoy playing as it's so easy to simply get lost in the music.

Donald Isler
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Donald Isler » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:43 am

Many interesting comments here. (But nothing that draws my "ire," John B!) I reviewed a concert last weekend by Alexander Kobrin which included this sonata. That performance did include the repeat of the first movement. I don't object to the music in the first ending, but playing the repeat does make the sonata even longer than it needs to be (IMHO), wonderful work that it is anyway. I refer to the point Lewis is talking about, at the top of the last page of the second movement, as a magical moment, where Schubert takes us into C Major. Interesting mention by Lewis about the constant ongoing eighth notes. I played the A Minor Sonata which is referred to in a recital last week. Did not know that it was from around the time of Schubert's diagnosis. That sonata is certainly dark, but I was not aware that it was also a musical turning point for him. Would have liked to have heard Lewis and Biss (neither of whom I've yet heard in concert) play the Fantasy. If anyone's interested, there's a concert performance of it on YouTube which I played with my friend, Arthur Abrahams.
Donald Isler

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 04, 2016 11:49 am

Donald Isler wrote:Many interesting comments here. (But nothing that draws my "ire," John B!) I reviewed a concert last weekend by Alexander Kobrin which included this sonata. That performance did include the repeat of the first movement. I don't object to the music in the first ending, but playing the repeat does make the sonata even longer than it needs to be (IMHO), wonderful work that it is anyway. I refer to the point Lewis is talking about, at the top of the last page of the second movement, as a magical moment, where Schubert takes us into C Major. Interesting mention by Lewis about the constant ongoing eighth notes. I played the A Minor Sonata which is referred to in a recital last week. Did not know that it was from around the time of Schubert's diagnosis. That sonata is certainly dark, but I was not aware that it was also a musical turning point for him. Would have liked to have heard Lewis and Biss (neither of whom I've yet heard in concert) play the Fantasy. If anyone's interested, there's a concert performance of it on YouTube which I played with my friend, Arthur Abrahams.
Don't be ridiculous, Don. Of course we are interested. I searched this six ways to Sunday and did not find your performance, though I did find several others. For those who may not know, Donald holds back on the extent of his own talent and accomplishment, for reasons unclear to me. It would be a privilege to play a four-hand piece with him, but I would be the one at a disadvantage and much need to practice.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Donald Isler
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Donald Isler » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:16 pm

Thanks for your kind words, John. I just put the words "Isler Abrahams Schubert Fantasy" into the search function on YouTube and it came up right away.
Donald Isler

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by maestrob » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:21 pm

FWIW: Yes, I do have the recording of Perahia/Lupu faetured above, and the Schubert is pure poetry. Teresa and I were lucky enough to have stage seats in Carnegie Hall when Perahia/Lupu played a full concert of four-hand music around the time the recording was made. One of the great concert experiences of our lives, it was.

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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Holden Fourth » Thu Aug 04, 2016 4:49 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Donald Isler wrote:Many interesting comments here. (But nothing that draws my "ire," John B!) I reviewed a concert last weekend by Alexander Kobrin which included this sonata. That performance did include the repeat of the first movement. I don't object to the music in the first ending, but playing the repeat does make the sonata even longer than it needs to be (IMHO), wonderful work that it is anyway. I refer to the point Lewis is talking about, at the top of the last page of the second movement, as a magical moment, where Schubert takes us into C Major. Interesting mention by Lewis about the constant ongoing eighth notes. I played the A Minor Sonata which is referred to in a recital last week. Did not know that it was from around the time of Schubert's diagnosis. That sonata is certainly dark, but I was not aware that it was also a musical turning point for him. Would have liked to have heard Lewis and Biss (neither of whom I've yet heard in concert) play the Fantasy. If anyone's interested, there's a concert performance of it on YouTube which I played with my friend, Arthur Abrahams.
Don't be ridiculous, Don. Of course we are interested. I searched this six ways to Sunday and did not find your performance, though I did find several others. For those who may not know, Donald holds back on the extent of his own talent and accomplishment, for reasons unclear to me. It would be a privilege to play a four-hand piece with him, but I would be the one at a disadvantage and much need to practice.

One of my Desert Island Discs this recording.

Allen
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Allen » Thu Aug 04, 2016 6:41 pm

Donald Isler wrote:Thanks for your kind words, John. I just put the words "Isler Abrahams Schubert Fantasy" into the search function on YouTube and it came up right away.

Donald

Is this the one?


Donald Isler
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Re: Paul Lewis on Schubert's last sonata

Post by Donald Isler » Thu Aug 04, 2016 7:00 pm

That's the one, Allen! Thanks for posting it.
Donald Isler

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