Paul Lewis

Perth Concert Hall

Just as Mitsuko Uchida remains the Mozart pianist of choice for many listeners, Paul Lewis has established himself as the go-to man for Schubert. His performances and recordings of the sonatas made his name as a young man, and now the mature musician has returned to them, bringing experience and, perhaps, the lessons of a lengthy excursion into the Beethoven canon, to bear on the later works in particular.

The pianist has said that the main difference between the works of those two composers is that Schubert sees no reason to find resolution. That is especially true of the first work in the second programme of his cycle of the sonatas at Perth, the sole Scottish dates of this two-year project.

The posthumously-published Sonata No 15 in C, D840, has only two completed movements, and appears to have been set aside while Schubert completed its successor, the 16th in A minor, D845, the work with which Lewis ended this recital.

Named ‘Reliquie’ in the false claim to have been the composer’s final work, the music that has come down to us benefitted from Lewis’s brisk work-in-progress approach as soon as he sat at the keyboard. Confident that Schubert’s melodic genius will work its magic, Lewis began in robust, probing fashion, with a noticeably weighty left hand in the climax to the first movement and swift passage into the Andante. The 6/8 rhythm of the slower music is an interrogation of the piano as a musical machine that was still a new and evolving instrument. As Lewis says, Schubert asks many questions of player and instrument, but sees no need to supply easy answers.

The D644 Sonata which followed is the work of young, hopeful Schubert, and Lewis brought a sparkle to the “little” A major that gloried in its comparative completeness, if not complexity. This is performative music, more like Mozart than Beethoven, with a musical narrative that seems redolent of the countryside, like the contemporary ‘Trout’ Piano Quintet. There was a liquid intensity to the river of notes, as the fingering suggests eddies and pools as well as rapids.

The A minor D845, which ended this programme, both provides some suggestions as to where the C major sonata may have been heading in its explorations of the possibilities of the piano, and begins the sequence of three late sonatas that many regard as the composer’s most profound work. Whether the music is really a picture of Schubert’s own troubled psyche or, more simply, mapping out a direction for piano writing for generations to come, it is a ferociously difficult work which Lewis dispatched with deceptive ease. The contrasting tempi required by the right and left hand are a huge challenge, but this pianist’s time-keeping was never less than rigorous to the score’s fluctuating demands.

Keith Bruce