SCHUBERT Late Piano Sonatas
Just to clarify, this latest Schubert release is a mix of Paul Lewis old and new. The last two sonatas are reissues of his recordings from 2002; D784 and D958, which featured on his debut disc for Harmonia Mundi in 2001, have been re recorded. It makes for fascinating and irresistible comparison. The finale of D784 sounds positively polite compared with what he does to it now. There’s a greater revealing of the seething anger that underpins this most desolate of sonatas. Lewis is a more rhetorical, self-assured artist than he was in his late twenties; in terms of emotional heft, this new reading can sit very happily alongside those of Lupu, Pires and Brendel.
That rhetorical power is put to tremendous use in D958: what previously sounded troubling is now cataclysmic. And he’s unashamed of pointing up the similarities with Beethoven. Even in a movement such as the finale of the same sonata, which hasn’t necessarily changed in conception, the details are telling, with smoother, less bouncy phrasing, to more malevolent effect. In the slow movement too, his reading now seems more informed by playing the song-cycles; what in the earlier performance was merely sad has much more colour, more layering, the emotion more searing. And that’s helped by the fact that he now has a better-regulated instrument and a much less boomy acoustic than before.
So good are these new readings that it seems a shame that he wasn’t able to re record D959 and D960 as well. It’s not that they’re not good: at their best they are very fine indeed. It’s simply that Lewis has matured into a much more outgoing, rhetorical artist. The first movement of D960 now seems a little fidgety alongside those of Andsnes, Uchida or Brendel – full of incident, yes, but not quite scaling the heights as he now does in concert. But it’s in the slow movements that I feel most has changed. Again, in concert, the outburst in D959 is these days devastating; on his recording it’s still a little reined in. The third movement of the same sonata is wonderfully played, though the piano is a little tinny in its uppermost reaches. So a slightly mixed affair. But the new recordings reaffirm that Lewis is one of the great Schubertians of our time.