Thu, 01 Aug 2013
Last three sonatas round off Schubert series at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood.
Paul Lewis's two and a half year exploration of Schubert's major piano works drew to a close at Tanglewood on 24th July with his final performance of the last three piano sonatas at Ozawa Hall. Since the start of the series in January 2011, Paul has given more than 200 Schubert performances in 22 different countries to great public and critical acclaim, taking in such venues as London's Wigmore Hall, Symphony Hall Chicago, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, KKL Luzern, Mozarteum Salzburg, and Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. His performance of the last three Schubert sonatas at New York's Alice Tully Hall was chosen by Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times as one of the top ten performances in New York during 2012. In addition to the Schubert series, the last few seasons have seen concerto performances with some of the world's leading orchestras such as the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, NHK Symphony, Philharmonia, and Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
The 2013/14 season promises to be a hugely exciting one, with visits to the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Andris Nelsons, New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Christoph von Dohnanyi, London Symphony Orchestra and New Japan Philharmonic with Daniel Harding, and tours of Asia with the Czech Philharmonic under Jiri Belohlavek, and Austria with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati. Solo recitals will take Paul to London's Royal Festival Hall as well as Carnegie Hall, New York, and December 2013 sees a duo tour with Lisa Batiashvili. Recording plans for this season include Brahms D minor concerto with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Sun, 28 Jul 2013
BBC Proms 2013
Paul Lewis plays Mozart's Piano Concerto in C Major K.503 at the BBC Proms this week with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding. You can hear it live on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 30th July, and on 1st August you can watch it on BBC4 at 19:30.
Sun, 19 Feb 2012
Paul Lewis's latest Schubert CD has been chosen as Gramophone Recording of the Month, and Disc of the Week on BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Paul Lewis's latest recording of Schubert's late piano works was named as CD Review's Disc of the Week on 10th December 2011, and Gramophone's Recording of the Month in the February 2012 issue.
Here are some quotes from the Gramophone review;
"Following his Beethoven immersion on record, Paul Lewis returns to Schubert, some of whose sonatas he set down a decade or so ago for Harmonia Mundi, and project left tantalisingly hanging in the air. Well, it was worth the wait. In the intervening time, he has developed into arguably the finest Schubert interpreter of his generation...."
"Time and again you marvel at the confidence and sureness of Lewis's playing, combined with the finesse and musicality the he has always displayed. It's the kind of playing, in fact, where comparisons cease to matter... In the first movement of the D major sonata D.850, Lewis really brings out the Beethovenian panache of the writing. Few drive through those opening chords with quite as much conviction..."
Harriet Smith, Gramophone
Fri, 21 Oct 2011
Latest Schubert recital on tour
At the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday evening, the brilliant English pianist Paul Lewis offered superlative performances of works Schubert wrote from 1822, the year his syphilis was diagnosed, to 1828, when he died.
Mr. Lewis spent much of the last decade focusing on Beethoven, performing and recording his complete concertos and sonatas on the Harmonia Mundi label and establishing himself as one of the finest Beethoven interpreters of his generation. Now 39, he has turned his attention to Schubert, with a two-year international tour and a disc that will be released in November; he returns to the 92nd Street Y on April 26.
As Mr. Lewis says in an interview with the Y, the drama of Schubert’s music is often soft-spoken. “When Schubert wants to tell you something important,” he says, “he will usually lower his voice rather than raise it — he draws you into the message, rather than projects it out to you.”
Mr. Lewis similarly drew in the audience with the intimacy of his interpretations, the resigned melodies unfolding with a sorrowful glow. Mr. Lewis played with a warm, inviting sound and heartfelt commitment throughout, beginning with Schubert’s Four Impromptus (D. 935) in the first half of the program.
He explored two very different sides of the composer after intermission, imbuing the intimate miniatures of the “Moments Musicaux” (D. 780) with myriad details and poetic nuances, and tackling the “Wanderer Fantasy.” Schubert, though a gifted pianist, succumbed to the technical challenges of the “Wanderer,” his most symphonic and virtuosic piece for keyboard. He is said to have stopped during a performance for friends and shouted, “Let the Devil play the stuff!"
Mr. Lewis had no such difficulties, playing with a power that revealed his wild side, while always maintaining a singing line amid the turbulence. He plumbed the music with a passionate spontaneity that rendered the quieter moments particularly heart-wrenching.
The 92nd Street Y audience, often one of the city’s more sedate crowds, reacted exuberantly after the dramatic conclusion. “The ‘Wanderer’ is too euphoric to send you home with,” Mr. Lewis said wryly from the stage, “so I must play something dark and miserable.” He offered a poetic rendition of Schubert’s Allegretto in C minor as an encore.
VIVIEN SCHWEITZER - NEW YORK TIMES
The Symphony Center Presents Piano Series began Sunday afternoon the way it had ended in May, with Paul Lewis taking his listeners on an absorbing adventure into Schubert.
Lewis' approach to Schubert has often been compared to that of Alfred Brendel, his great former teacher, and while such comparisons accord his pianism the high stature it deserves, they fail to acknowledge the penetrating insights and generosity of feeling that make his Schubert performances as distinctive and personal as his Beethoven.
That fine balance of Olympian poise and emotional engagement was especially conspicuous in his playing of the four Impromptus, Opus 142 (D.935), and the great "Wanderer" Fantasy in C major (D.760), the two major works around which his latest recital program was built.
The pianist's way of tracing subtle musical connections from one impromptu to the next supported Robert Schumann's assertion that the four pieces represent a loose sonata cycle. The very fact that the Opus 142 was made to stand alone on the first half of the program lent added weight to that contention.
As always with Lewis, supple melodic lines and clear voicings were anchored in purling tone and sensitively weighted chordal harmonies. The emotional depth he uncovered in the five variations of the B-flat major impromptu effectively belied the stereotype of Schubert as a cheerful, cozy purveyor of Biedermeier salon pieces. So firm were his rhythmic accents in the fourth impromptu (F minor) that its origins in Gypsy folk dance could be fully appreciated.To my ears, this was the highlight of the afternoon.
The six modest pieces that constitute Schubert's "Moments musicaux" (D.780) made a tender interlude between the big opening and closing works. This is charming rather than weighty music, and by refusing to sentimentalize any of it (notably in the familiar F minor and the serene A-flat major pieces), Lewis made the most of its unassuming virtues.
Schubert's C-major Fantasy (D.760) demands the utmost in virtuosity but it also demands a tight hold on structure so that the music doesn't wander off, per its sobriquet. Lewis met both demands squarely while conveying the symphonic reach of this music, the sense of Schubert's almost Beethovenian striving beyond conventional pianistic bounds.
The fugal finale was stunning without being in any way merely flashy, but what I will remember the most about this performance was Lewis' ability to keep the singing line paramount amid the bursts of bravura excitement. If the buzzing of what I took to be a broken piano string taxed his concentration, it didn't show in his playing.
At encore time, Lewis turned to the audience and said, "I'm just going to play something quieter." A limpid rendition of Schubert's Allegretto in C minor was the result.
JOHN VON RHEIN - CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Paul Lewis is today’s keeper of the flame for the First Viennese School of piano music. Now that Brendel has retired, the tradition of Busch, Schnabel and Serkin is kept very much alive in the hands of this young, unassuming but gifted artist. Sunday’s recital at Symphony Center showed again how well he has been performing the task.
The concert, comprising Franz Schubert’s Four Impromptus Op. 142, his Moments Musicaux Op. 94 and the Wanderer Fantasy, was the third of five in which Lewis is exploring the later piano works of Schubert: Chicago will hear two Sonatas in A minor and some shorter works next April.
For such an undemonstrative performer, Lewis places a lot of emphasis on emotional expression in his playing. His technical prowess challenges the dynamics of the piano and like Brendel, his teacher, he homes in on the emotional core of each phrase while paying equal attention to the songfulness that pervades all of Schubert’s piano music.
Lewis’s way with Schubert was quickly established in the first work he performed, the group of four Impromptus D935, pieces which are sometimes underestimated. In his hands they were formed into a coherent and satisfying whole from the dramatic First Impromptu through the lilting lyricism of the Third and the challenging virtuosity of the Fourth.
Placing the program’s intermission after the Impromptus highlighted the substantiality of the pieces while placing the lighter Moments Musicaux in contrast against the prodigious Wanderer Fantasy in C major.
The Fantasy was dispatched with virtuosity and passion from the clarion call of the opening to the orchestral density of the dramatic close. Lewis lost a few notes along the way but he never broke his concentration on the overarching shape of the work at hand.
As an encore he responded to the enthusiastic audience with “something quieter,” the tender Allegretto in C Minor, revealed as another seemingly slight piece with unexpected depths.
GERALD FISHER - CHICAGO CLASSICAL REVIEW
Paul Lewis's exploration of Schubert's late piano music and song cycles is one of the most compelling concert series of the moment. Yet, as with all the best artistic projects, there are exciting and unexpected turns. Until now, the abiding characteristic of Lewis's Schubert playing has sometimes been an almost Olympian objectivity and poise, reminiscent of Alfred Brendel in the same repertoire. Yet in this latest phase of Lewis's journey, and returning to the beautifully restored concert room in his home city, there was something else – a passionate musical engagement more reminiscent of Lewis's memorable Beethoven.
Both the four late Impromptus D935 and the Wanderer Fantasy, the twin pillars on which this latest recital programme is built, are complex pieces that Schubert could easily have turned into sonatas but didn't. Yet Lewis played both as though they possessed a sonata's creative drive. He went at the opening page of the F minor Impromptu – a piece in which the limpid crossed-hands modulations mean the playing needs to be seen as well as heard – with a physicality that was at times a little untidy. But by the time he reached the Fantasy at the end of the evening, the technique was absolutely up to speed with the conception. This was fabulously persuasive and fully committed playing.
By comparison with the twin peaks of the Impromptus and the Fantasy, the six Moments Musicaux D780 were a gentler interlude. Yet these pieces contain some of Schubert's most poignant and beguiling music, in which the balanced tone and weight of touch are everything. Here Lewis was in his more familiar Schubertian mode. It was hard to imagine some passages sounding more exquisitely played – even the occasional tinkle from the concert-room chandelier seemed in appreciative sympathy.
MARTIN KETTLE - THE GUARDIAN
Schubert has always been one of the essential building blocks in Paul Lewis’s repertoire. In the past few years he had switched his focus to Beethoven – the complete piano sonatas live and in recordings, together with the first complete cycle of the concertos at the BBC Proms in 2010 – but now he is back with the composer he seems closer to than any other.
His two-year Schubert project is in full stream. Perhaps spurred on by exploring the three great song cycles with tenor Mark Padmore on disc, he has devised a series of solo recitals based on the late piano music. Each programme is being taken on tour and this second in the series will head off at the weekend to Bordeaux, Vienna, Bologna, Florence and then Asia.
Although he notably studied as a private pupil of Alfred Brendel, Lewis is by no means a replica of his teacher. The sound he makes at the piano is full and rich, to the point where the climaxes of the “Wanderer” Fantasy in the second half of this recital almost took the instrument to the limits of its high romantic potential – no period, early 19th-century restraint here.
Before that, though, he showed how well attuned he is to some of the smaller late pieces. The four Impromptus D935, composed in the middle of the bleak song cycle Die Winterreise, offer vignettes that contrast with the song cycle’s broader canvas. Lewis has that special gift essential for late Schubert of being able to plumb depths in the simplest material, so the close of the third Impromptu, for example, was typically thoughtful but unforced. His playing always sings, too, so the six Moments Musicaux D780 offered an unbroken series of lyrical beauties.
To end, the “Wanderer” Fantasy summoned all his strengths for a single, extended showpiece. This was again a performance of pensive and probing musicianship, and where other pianists get so tense dealing with the music’s insistent rapid repetitions that their sound gets hard and stressed, Lewis’s playing was always grand and rich in colours. It is not only two hands he will be taking on tour, but virtually a full orchestra.
RICHARD FAIRMAN - FINANCIAL TIMES
The excellent performance last night by pianist Paul Lewis at the Mozart-Saal in the Konzerthaus in Vienna provided some new insights about acoustic effects that are idiomatic of piano that may have interested Schubert late in his composing career.
There are many passages in the Vier Impromptus (D 935, 1827), Fantasie (D 760, 1822), and Sechs Moments musicaux (D 780, 1823-28) that have emphases with the sustain pedal applied—the Sechs Moments more than the others. The impression we receive as the sound “blooms” or blossoms in the few hundreds of milliseconds after the chord’s strings have been struck and sympathetic resonances are established in other strings and in the soundboard amounts to a tactile/haptic sense of flow—of a “systolic” pushing of blood through large blood vessels, and of the blood vessels’ elasticity, acting as a “reservoir” with network-like capacitance to absorb the flow and to subsequently dissipate it in the rete of smaller vessels beyond.
It requires a piano with an efficient, high-impedance soundboard with a high Q-factor (fast decay of high overtones). You can play around with these properties with the Pianoteq software if you like. The software enables you to alter or exaggerate the “bloom”—how quickly or slowly it develops after the hammer strikes the strings; how long it takes for it to ring-down and decay while the sustain pedal is depressed.
In Lewis’s playing, we see the physical origins of the sound—besides the properties of the instrument itself, there are elements of his performance practice that contribute to his technique and the sound that it affords. For example, he places the piano bench very high—so that the top of the bench is almost even with the underside of the keyboard… Last night, it was only 2 cm lower than the surface of the flange that mounts the pedal mechanism to the underside of the Steinway Model D. The thighs slope downward, and this puts Lewis’s legs in an angle of slight extension—about 140° between the femur and the tibia shaft centerlines. His elbow is high as well—also in a position of slight extension.
Lewis’s pedaling technique involves, then, considerable so-called "concentric" contraction by the rectus femoris muscle of the right leg, in addition to the flexion of the ankle. The dynamics of Lewis’s right leg motions contributed substantially to the “blooming,” systolic sonic effects of the accent-sustains in these Schubert pieces.
Why does this interest me? Because these pieces are introspective and quite emotional, and I want to think about how they came to be so. These pieces were created late in Schubert’s short life, after the consequences of his syphilis had begun to be apparent, and after his treatments with mercury compounds (one of the few modalities of “treatment” for syphilis in the 19th Century) had also begun to exert their neurotoxic side-effects.
While it is possible for those of us who are not musicians—who are not composers—to be oblivious to the rhythms of our bodies, to the rhythms of our life and of our mortality, it is pretty implausible that a composer, or any elite-level musician performer—would not notice. And, having noticed such things—especially abnormal things, changed or changing things, potentially life-threatening things—like the pulsatility of one’s heart that is altering day by day as it has to work harder; or palpitations of a chronic or sub-chronic abnormal heart rhythm; or the progressive dilatation of an abdominal aortic aneurysm; or the worsening of stenosis of the aortic valve in the heart, or worsening incompetence of the mitral valve—having noticed them, it is, I think, impossible for a composer not to attend to them. Impossible for those physical, kinesthetic effects not to creep into one’s music; impossible not to become a bit preoccupied or obsessed with such persistent sensory stimuli in one’s writing.
Lewis’s lucid, passionate, pulsatile playing of these late Schubert works last night—evocative as it was of preoccupations with systole, and pressure-wave run-off, and hemodynamics equations, and windkessel compliance, and vessel elastance and storage, and ventricular-arterial coupling, and how severe aortitis changes these things—caused me think of this. Life is short: compose like hell, while we can; play like hell, while we can.
CHAMBER MUSIC TODAY
Mon, 27 Jun 2011
Beethoven Diabelli Variations is Disc of the Month in BBC Music Magazine
Paul Lewis's new recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations has just been released. Here are some of the reviews...
Let me shout this loud: here is one of the great Beethoven performances of the age, from one of the greatest Beethoven pianists of our time...Lewis's fantastic performance is distinguished above all by his complete understanding of late Beethoven: it is in every page and phrase of this phenomenal performance. (Michael Tumelty, The Herald)
Surely Lewis is the finest Beethoven pianist of his generation. (IRR Outstanding, International Record Review)
Nothing in music is more exhilarating than a good performance of the Diabelli Variations, and this one is exceptionally good - torrential but controlled, and intensely lyrical. Never has Beethoven's monument to creative invention seemed less forbidding. In Lewis's hands, it gives the sense despite all its intellectual mastery of being like a gigantic piece of improvisation. From the first variation, where Lewis's voicing of the chords brings out their changing harmonies, the interpretation carries superb conviction. The varied pauses between variations enhance the sense of drama...The disc is a delight. (David Cairns, The Sunday Times)
Lewis's interpretation mixes high drama and poetic aplomb characteristics of a serious musician, flexing his muscles. (Geoff Brown, The Times)
Mr Lewis keeps all options open in his elegant, sly and richly characterized performance, providing rollicking humor in the clattering 16th variation, infectious exuberance in the cascading 18th variation, and mystery in the harmonically searching time-stands-still variation that follows. Mr. Lewis takes a bracing tempo in the fugue, played with punchy attacks and admirable clarity. His way with the flighty, delicate final minuet variation is especially beguiling. Mr. Lewis again proves himself a major Beethoven interpreter. (Anthony Tommasini, New York Times)
In a follow-up to his refreshing recordings of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas and five piano concertos, the British pianist Paul Lewis has now turned to Beethoven’s other great piano score –- the 33 variations on a waltz by one Anton von Diabelli. And not a minute too soon. His sparkling tone reminds us that Beethoven was inspired by a dance tune in a popular style. Even the most intense variations never lose their lilt. (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times)
The playing possesses all the dynamism and discretion, the insight and immediacy, that Lewis poured into that grand project of encompassing all 32 of the sonatas, and is essential listening. Right from the burst of energy and innocence that Lewis brings to the theme itself, he is a master of characterisation, pointing up Beethoven’s inventiveness as well as his architectural acumen, and playing with palpable concentration and, in the slower variations, with sublime intensity. (Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph)
Lewis is a pianist's pianist, one who understands the weight and significance of every note. This is particularly apparent in the finely-gauged slow variations towards the end of the set. In between these he floats the complex weave of Variation 20, with billowing rubato, perfectly catching what his teacher, Alfred Brendel, once described as "Gentle Grief". Lewis' Variation 10 is a rush of irrepressible mirth; his Variation 14 - titled Intermezzo (to Brahms) - could blend with the younger composer's Opus 117. The team at Harmonia Mundi have excelled themselves with a recording exemplary in its clarity and presence. (William dart, New Zealand Herald)
Pour réellement apprécier les Variations Diabelli, il vous faut un interprète assez humble pour traduire sans la trahir l'incroyable variété des rythmes et des styles que le compositeur a couchés sur le papier. Cet enregistrement de Paul Lewis s'inscrit par sa plasticité dans la continuité de son intégrale des 32 sonates. Comme Beethoven qui, pas une fois au long des 33 variations, ne se répète, le pianiste passe de l'une à l'autre en changeant constamment l'éclairage, comme s'il jouait à présenter le même objet sous un angle toujours différent, en révélant une nouvelle dimension du même univers. Pour respecter le plan de l'oeuvre, il sait toutefois garder bien ouvertes toutes les avenues disponibles. Et la vraie beauté de la chose, c'est qu'on y croit tout au long. (Richard Boisvert, Le Soleil)
Thu, 02 Jun 2011
Schubert and the Piano: 1822-1828 - Programme 2 in Chicago
Paul Lewis' ongoing cycle of late Schubert piano works here is notable not only for its remarkably thoughtful and beautifully finished pianism but also for its correcting the perception of Schubert as a composer of cheerful, cozy, Biedermeier salon works. Once the Austrian composer was diagnosed with syphilis, in 1822, the expressive nature and message of his music changed. Sorrow and melancholy became more evident, even in works wearing a sunny exterior.
That sense of tears barely disguised by laughter was palpable throughout much of the second installment of the British pianist's two-season Schubert survey, Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall. Lewis' deep insights into the emotional complications of this music were matched by his firm grasp of classical structure and the ways in which Schubert's lyrical gift illuminates that structure. This was Schubert playing of a very high order
Lewis' program focused on works dating from the final four years of Schubert's tragically short life (he died in 1828, at 31). Two masterpieces – the four Impromptus, Opus 90 (D.899) and the Piano Sonata in G major (D.894) – were set off by less familiar fare, notably the 12 Waltzes (D.145) and "Hungarian Melody" in B minor (D.817).
The pianist caught the lilting grace and immense melodic charm of the waltzes with a flexibility of rhythm that is one of the hallmarks of his Schubert. There was no self-conscious striving for effect because the composer's own voice was kept paramount. Only one question came to mind: Why aren't these disarming miniatures played more often?
Through Lewis' finely sensitive playing of the impromptus (composed only a year before Schubert's death) you could all but picture the composer slowly withdrawing from the world. The pianist brought an almost unearthly calm and grave beauty of tone to the C minor and G flat major pieces, subtly coloring every harmonic shift. The strings of triplets in the E flat major were spun of thistledown, beautifully regulated under Lewis' impeccable fingers.
The "Hungarian Melody," unpublished and unknown until a century after Schubert's death, turned out to be a charming chip from the master's workbench. Lewis brought out the tune's folkish inflections most idiomatically before he launched without pause into the G major sonata.
The opening movement brought an unusually expansive treatment whose mood swings – from wistful and withdrawn to defiant and heroic – the pianist held together with a concentration not even persistent eruptions of audience coughing could shake. Again, the purling warmth of his lyrical playing was a thing of beauty unto itself. The rhythms of the third movement laendler were strongly defined, yet fluid and delicate when they needed to be.
The majority of Sunday's most disruptive coughers fell silent as Lewis made his way through the unambiguously sunny finale. Schubert varies each appearance of the rondo theme slightly differently, and the pianist made certain his listeners appreciated the exquisite subtlety with which he did so.
Lewis' Schubert cycle will conclude with three recitals next season at Symphony Center, the first of which is scheduled for Oct. 16.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
Wed, 25 May 2011
Beethoven Diabelli Variations. Out May 30th
Beethoven s 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli was completed in 1823. Alfred Brendel has described it as, the greatest of all piano works and in his textbook Structural Functions of Harmony, Arnold Schoenberg writes that, in respect of its harmony, it deserves to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven. The piece was composed after Diabelli, a well-known music publisher and composer, sent his waltz to all the important composers of the Austrian Empire, asking each of them to write a variation on it. His plan was to publish all the variations in an anthology to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars. Upon hearing Beethoven's submission, Diabelli proclaimed that it was, a great and important masterpiece, worthy to be ranked with the imperishable creations of the old Classics and to occupy a place beside Sebastian Bach's famous masterpieces of the same type. On this eagerly anticipated release, Paul Lewis brings his sharp intellect and remarkable technique to bear on this towering masterwork of the period.
Thu, 31 Mar 2011
On the Road With...
On the Road With... is a series of 30 minute fly-on-the-wall TV documentaries produced and presented by Matthew Stadlen. Last week, Matthew spent the day with Paul Lewis as he prepared to give a recital at London's Wigmore Hall.
The programme will be shown on the BBC News Channel at the following times:
Sat 2nd April at 2230
Sun 3rd April at 2230
There will be further broadcasts on the BBC News Channel and BBC World at the following (UK) times:
Sat 2nd April at 0130 and 0430
Sun 3rd April at 0130
Tues 5th April at 0330
Friday 8th April at 0230
Wed, 30 Mar 2011
Schubert and the Piano: 1822-1828
The first recital programme in Paul Lewis's two year Schubert project was played twice last week to capacity audiences at London's Wigmore Hall. The second performance on 24th March was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast on 14th April. Here are some reviews from the first of the two concerts on 22nd March:
Scarcely more than ten years ago, a little known Englishman called Paul Lewis made us sit up and listen to Schubert as never before. Now the pianist is a hot ticket wherever he goes and, after his Beethoven concerto marathon at last year’s Proms, he’s returning to Schubert with a two-year international touring programme that he began in January.
So what it is about Lewis’s Schubert? Well, it is teeming energy, it’s daring simplicity — and, above all, it’s an eagerness to look into the abyss. In everything he chose for his programme this week, Lewis rapidly scrubbed away anything we might comfortably have expected to hear, and went for the viscera.
The D840 Sonata, the so-called Reliquie, is a two-movement unfinished work that begins innocently enough. And, because Lewis doesn’t linger or soften with sentiment Schubert’s simplest ideas, they provide the momentum for even a veiled rhythm to dominate and drive the music on with alacrity and biting demarcation.
Lewis uncovers an almost impatient impetus even within a simple direction such as moderato or andante. And, with any lazily clichéd “setting” of certain phrases totally rejected, the nerve endings of each harmonic twist and turn is all the more acutely felt.
Reluctant to spend more than a few seconds taking applause, Lewis seized the moment to spring into the hurtle of hell itself for the first of the Three Piano Pieces D946. This seemed a desperate and devilish dance, with feverishly bright light in the right hand. And then a withdrawal into intimacy, with Lewis sounding out the dark inner voices of Schubert’s writing. The second piece, begun in an undertone, offered balm and purification; the third a renewal of Schubert’s characteristic oscillation between stasis and agitation.
The D850 Sonata was exuberant with the sheer joy of physical pianism: buoyant with raw energy, silken with sentiment which never tipped into sentimentality; and revelatory in its judgment of pulse and pace.
Hilary Finch, The Times
Last Sunday the American pianist Emanuel Ax played an entire concert of late Schubert piano music at the Wigmore Hall, and wonderful it was, too. Two days later, young British pianist Paul Lewis appeared in the same hall, playing more late Schubert.
It was a chance to plunge once again into Schubert’s heart-stopping emotional world, where guilelessly simple things seem profound, and nostalgia lives side-by-side with a frightening demonic energy. In contrast to Ax, Lewis took Schubert deeper into a Romantic ambience, and that meant his whole stance to the instrument was interestingly different. It had to be pushed against its limits – and how Lewis pushed and urged, at times with an audible growl and a frown of concentration, or perhaps frustration. He was playing the same piano as Ax but it sounded startlingly different, less bright, full of dusky shades and half-hints.
But though Lewis went some way towards a Romantic ethos, he’s too scrupulous and intelligent to go all the way. His innate tact was shown in the first of the Three Piano Pieces, which launches off with a furious energy soon capped by a magnificent close. It would be easy to play this at full volume, but Lewis actually pulled back the dynamic, creating a sense of triumphant arrival through radiance rather than force.
This shows how Lewis used different colours not just to summon Romantic moonlit glades, but also to make the music’s architecture speak. It was his way of acknowledging the classical strain in Schubert, and it gave the whole recital a luminous clarity as well as poetic insight.
The most spectacular example of that came in the central section of the third piece. Here Schubert reduces melody and rhythm to almost nothing, and simply places great blocks of harmony next to each other. By colouring each one slightly differently, Lewis made their plainness seem mysterious and somehow infinite.
The other two pieces — the late unfinished Sonata in C and the D major Sonata — had the same electrifying amalgam of poise and restraint pushing against unruly energy. And again, the severity and fatefulness were softened with telling half-tones, as in the lovely slow movement of the Sonata in D. When the melody returns for the third time, a memory of the preceding music clings to it like a vine round a trellis - a hard effect to bring off, but Lewis achieved it perfectly.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph
Following his award-winning Beethoven cycle, Lewis turns his attention to late Schubert.
Last night's recital (repeated tomorrow for broadcast on April 14) featured the incomplete C major Sonata, D. 840 (Reliquie), the D major Sonata, D. 850, and the three Klavierstücke, D. 946. To all these pieces Lewis brought the warm, rounded tone, immaculate voicing and rhythmic precision typical of his playing.
Compared with his teacher Alfred Brendel, Lewis is a shade more robust and allows himself slightly less rhythmic latitude. Such an approach works well in a piece such as the D major Sonata, whose outer movements are among the most ebullient Schubert wrote. He may have been only three years from his death but he was just 28 when he wrote the work. In Lewis's performance you could almost picture the young composer setting out with his friend Vogl, their feathered hats set at a jaunty angle, on one of their walking expeditions into the heart of the Salzkammergut.
But there were magical moments too, when Lewis's playing touched the sublime. His own Schubert odyssey is not to be missed by anybody who appreciates pianism of the highest calibre.
Barry Millington, Evening Standard
It became clear from the opening of the ‘Reliquie’ that Lewis was up for the fine balancing act between music written for piano and piano music written to propose bigger possibilities. He kept a firm, rather severe hand on the music’s potential for monumentalism and in the process made you even more aware how Schubert’s boldly non-classical approach to harmonic relationships opens doors onto unexpectedly spacious musical vistas, a bit like experiencing the interior of the Tardis. Schubert, especially in the late music, seemed to create space out of nothing, and Lewis got almost as near to this mysterious alchemy as Alfred Brendel, although the latter, interestingly, was more relaxed about it. This was also a performance of one of Schubert’s unfinished works, easily on a par with the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, that steered away from presenting it as a satisfying whole, leaving instead possibilities hanging in the air.
To evoke Beethoven again, the D major Sonata is Schubert’s ‘Eroica’ and ‘Hammerklavier’ rolled into one. Lewis exploded into the first movement, taking to heart the Vivace tempo instruction, but it was in the slow movement that he came into his own, in a finely spun performance of music that starts simply and quickly becomes increasingly layered, a sort of awfully big adventure that Lewis put to rest in his charmingly direct approach to the child-like finale.
Peter Reed, Classical Source
Sun, 13 Mar 2011
Schubert and the Piano: 1822-1828
Paul Lewis spent two weeks in the USA last month, touring the first of five recital programmes in his two year Schubert project. The tour started in Chicago and took in Middlebury Vermont, New York, and Berkeley en route to Boston. Here is John von Rhein's Chicago Tribune review of the performance in Chicago's Orchestra Hall on 13th February.
The brilliant and insightful British pianist Paul Lewis came to Orchestra Hall on Sunday bearing precious gifts – the first of a planned cycle of Schubert's late piano works that will span five recitals over three seasons. Chicago is one of 15 cities in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia scheduled to hear all five programs, which will focus on the solo pieces Schubert wrote from 1822 (when he was diagnosed with syphilis) to his death six years later, at 31.
Lewis gave his audience a rewarding afternoon of music that has seldom been performed this well since the heyday of Alfred Brendel. The comparison is apt since Lewis is one of Brendel's most illustrious pupils. They share not only a deep affinity for Schubert's piano music but also, at times, a similarity of approach. Indeed, if you shut your eyes during portions of Lewis' "Schubertiad," you might well have believed he was channeling his famous mentor.
Both artists blend pianistic finesse with rich human insights and an instinctive grasp of musical architecture. Neither pianist interposes himself between the music and the listener, nor does either one fall into the trap of beautifying that which is already beautiful.
Make no mistake, however: Lewis is his own man as a Schubert interpreter. The curly-haired Briton brings his own keen insights and sensibility to this repertory, and his feeling for the composer's special lyricism is there for all to admire. Where I believe the younger pianist surpasses his great teacher is his refusal to play the schoolmaster, his shunning pedantic tendencies that sometimes intrude on Brendel's Schubert.
Lewis' program had as its bookends two sonatas – the unfinished Sonata in C major ("Reliquie"), D.840; and Sonata in D major, D.850. Between them came the Three Piano Pieces, D.946, a set of character pieces that parallels the late sonatas.
The pianist laid his credentials on the table right at the outset. Everything was there in his finely characterized C major sonata – the fine-spun legato line, the graceful phrasing, the classical order and proportion. Too bad a ringing cell phone and ill-timed audience coughs intruded on his Schubertian musings.
In some of the D.946 pieces Lewis observed repeats; in others, he didn't; he also chose the shorter alternative ending of the E flat minor, No. 1. His playing was alive to the music's shifting moods, from the wistful nostalgia of the first to the rhythmic exuberance of the dance-like third. Best was the E flat major, No. 2, whose supple lyric flow and balance of light and shade he caught beautifully.
The D major Sonata (1825) affords a glimpse of Schubert at his most optimistic and boldly confident, before the darkness closed in. Lewis was wonderfully well-attuned to the letter and spirit of the work. No fussiness or exaggerated point-making – just clear-headed Schubert playing, sure of touch, springy of rhythm, variegated of color, exact of articulation. His concentration made Schubert's long spans of thematic development a pleasure to follow. The naively simple finale brought smiles all around.
The second and third programs of Lewis' Schubert cycle will take place May 22 and Oct. 16 at Orchestra Hall.
Wed, 09 Feb 2011
Schubert and the Piano: 1822-1828
Paul Lewis's two year Schubert project is now underway. The first two performances were given to capacity audiences in Southampton on the 3rd February, and in Bristol on the 4th.
Reviewing the Bristol concert for The Guardian, Rian Evans wrote;
"Lewis's approach was understated, always letting the infinite succession
of melody unfold naturally. The music was allowed to speak for itself
without the imposition of overly self-conscious interpretative detail.
What emerged all the more clearly as a result – particularly in this
sympathetic acoustic – was an acute sense of Schubert's extraordinary
harmonies, as well as the crucial milestones in his tonal landscape. The
con moto movement of the Sonata in D major, D850, by turns gently
lyrical and passionate, found Lewis at his compelling best, realising
Schubert's song-like nature and, with it, some of the heartbreak."
Michael Tumelty reviewed the performance at the Perth Concert Hall on the 9th February. Here is his review for The Herald;
"What are the hallmarks of a great pianist? How do you identify great pianism when it confronts you? These were questions racing through my mind as Paul Lewis came on stage for the third time on Wednesday night to rapturous applause and a mini-standing ovation for the first in his five-concert series of recitals devoted to the later piano works of Schubert.
One of the hallmarks of great pianism is the ability of the player to take something very old and very familiar and basically reinvent it, with fidelity to the text of course, but producing something brand new, completely revitalised and pulsating with the energy of something freshly minted.
And that’s what Paul Lewis did with Schubert’s late, and very great, D major Sonata at the climax of a spellbinding recital that had also featured a performance of the Reliquie Sonata, and another of the Three Piano Pieces, independent pieces which had the integrity and character of a fully blown sonata in the hands of this light-fingered, ultra-refined and steel-tempered paragon of lucidity and keyboard articulation.
A broad view of Lewis’s playing of the D Major Sonata revealed a sonata that followed a curious trajectory. It was, as I observed to James Waters, creative director of the Perth hall, “almost the wrong way round”; ie, back to front.
This was pure, perhaps instinctive, structural genius from Lewis. The music began robustly, but not barnstormingly as so often, and, steadily, throughout its successive movements, folded in on itself, ending in a state of absolute internal calm and serenity with restraint of an almost heartstopping intimacy. It was completely original: infinite complexity wrapped in apparent simplicity."
Mon, 24 Jan 2011
BBC Proms 2010: BBC4 to broadcast Emperor concerto on 4th February 2011
Paul Lewis's performance of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto with Stephane Deneve and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has been scheduled for TV broadcast. It will be shown on BBC4 at 19:30 on 4th February 2011, and is the final instalment in Paul's televised cycle of the complete Beethoven piano concertos from the 2010 BBC Proms.
Wed, 19 Jan 2011
Paul Lewis's Proms Beethoven Cycle is pick of 2010
The young British pianist Paul Lewis went head to head this year with the great Daniel Barenboim and made an indelible impression with his poised and insightful Proms performances of all five Beethoven Concertos. Few understand better than he the delicate balance between Beethoven the classicist and Beethoven the visionary.
Edward Seckerson - the Independent
With so many great musicians and programmes at the Royal Albert Hall this summer, it is hard to discriminate, but one performer stood out. British pianist Paul Lewis was the inspiring soloist in all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos. Fresh from recording them with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiri Belohlavek, with whom he kicked off the series, Lewis was on top form, and over four concerts, with four different orchestras, he displayed his Beethoven credentials - making the pianissimos heard as much as the fortes - having previously wowed the critics with his recordings of the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas.
Jonathan Lennie - Time Out
Wed, 12 Jan 2011
Interview with Paul Lewis in The Observer, 9th Jan 2011
Here is a link to a major article by Ed Vulliamy on Paul Lewis and his two year Schubert series.
Tue, 04 Jan 2011
Paul Lewis wins a Limelight Award in Australia
Paul Lewis has won a prestigious Limelight Award for Best Solo Performance in 2010. The Limelight Award is Australia's premier prize for classical music, and is decided by public vote. This award acknowledges Paul Lewis's solo recital tour for Musica Viva in June/July 2010.