Review: Paul Lewis, Schubert Piano Music, Snape Maltings, August 26

Schubert was a great composer, of course, and he wrote some superb piano music but a recital devoted solely to him has its dangers. Although his melodic invention rarely fails he can be discursive and judicious programming is necessary.

For this sold out recital Paul Lewis began with the two-movement Sonata in C D840, a work conceived on a large scale but abandoned by the composer after the slow movement with only fragmentary and inferior music for succeeding movements. Like the Unfinished Symphony, it is an entirely satisfying whole.

Lewis captured the mood of the opening movement exactly – grandeur without pretension – and the loud passages made their full impact without any sense of strain. The fine Andante began with the easy feel of a country walk, the performance as elegant and finely judged as one could wish.

Although the Drei Klavierstucke D946 can get overlooked in the plethora of masterpieces from Schubert’s final months, they contain some of his most incisive piano writing. The stormy opening of the first piece was not over-done but still bristled with vigour and the warm, lyrical central section provided a perfect contrast. In the second piece there were echoes of Chopin and in the third some the virtuosic passages seemed to presage Schumann.

The first movement of the D major Sonata D850 was taken at a fast tempo, increased to thrilling effect at the end and with a sense of unity and cohesion not always easy to portray with Schubert. Here the movement seemed to flash by in a dazzling but never showy display from Lewis. In the slow movement he produced some wonderfully soft, velvety sounds as well as allowing the melodies to shine through in the stronger passages. The high quality of performance and absolute belief in the music was sustained to the very end.

For me, this was more than a concert, it was also a revelation as Paul Lewis shone a new light on this music. His two year project (beginning this year) to perform all Schubert’s mature piano music in several world centres promises to be a musical event of the first rank.

Gareth Jones