A masterful piano recital by Paul Lewis

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Ricordanza
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A masterful piano recital by Paul Lewis

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Mar 20, 2016 4:05 pm

While listening to Paul Lewis’ piano recital on Thursday evening, March 17, I envisioned scenes from 19th Century Europe: a jagged path in the forest, a rustic dance back at the inn, sitting by the fire and reflecting on past loves….and then a very different scene: a journey to Hell.

The jagged path—that’s the first movement of Schubert’s early Piano Sonata in B Major, D. 575. The path keeps veering as we come upon unexpected key changes, but still, there’s that serenity one associates with Schubert. This sonata, composed when Schubert was 20 years old, doesn’t quite reach the level of profundity and unearthly beauty of the late sonatas, but it’s still an appealing work. This was my first time hearing this piece, as well as my first time hearing this English pianist in recital, so it was early to form a distinctive impression.

But my admiration grew with the next part of the program, when Lewis offered early piano works by Brahms, his four Opus 10 Ballades. Let’s face it, Brahms had yet to reach the top of his game, and these pieces tend to be stolid and flat without something extra from the pianist to reach the listener. Fortunately, Lewis supplied that. After he completed the set, I was almost convinced that these belong in the first rank of Brahms’ piano work. Almost.

No convincing is necessary for the next Brahms set performed by Lewis: the three Intermezzos from Opus 117. It was readily apparent how far Brahms had come in the 38 years from the Opus 10 Ballades. Each of the three is a minor masterpiece, but even the best pieces don’t play themselves. Simply stated, Lewis offered some of the best Brahms playing I’ve heard in years. The performances were passionate without sinking into sugary sentimentality, rhythmically flexible without sacrificing steadiness and momentum.

Then came the journey to Hell in the form of Franz Liszt’s Apres une lecture du Dante (After a reading of Dante). The last piece of the second book of Années de Pèlerinage, Italie (Years of Pilgrimage), this has come to be known as the “Dante Sonata.” It’s no Sonata, but it’s far beyond the scale of the other pieces in the set. We know that Liszt was a very religious man, particularly later in life, yet his best music invokes the Devil and the Devil’s Domain—Hell. Although interspersed with some “heavenly” interludes, the depiction of Hell is vivid and overwhelming.

Paul Lewis is known for his Beethoven interpretations, having performed and recorded the full set of 32 Sonatas. So what was this piece doing on the program? Perhaps it was to let us know that this supposed “classicist” shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a performer. Indeed, this was outstanding Liszt playing. Lewis provided all the technical brilliance and fury required for Liszt, but with just the amount of control that every note was articulated clearly so that we could appreciate this remarkable piece of music.

After a standing ovation by nearly every audience member, Lewis sat down at the piano and said that it was time to leave Hell. His sole encore was a very short—and very sweet--piece by Liszt.

Donald Isler
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Re: A masterful piano recital by Paul Lewis

Post by Donald Isler » Mon Mar 21, 2016 11:09 pm

This well-written review would certainly make me more interested in hearing Mr. Lewis, Henry. Hope to, some day. Years ago I played that Schubert B Major Sonata. Yes, a very nice piece it is.
Donald Isler

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