SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No 16. Wandererfantasie. Impromptus
The first instalment in Paul Lewis’s Schubert series (2/12) got the year off to a wonderful start and he ends it in equally fine style with a recording every bit as compelling. It’s a fascinating and demanding programme – for both pianist and listener – but, whether in a Moment musical or the mighty Wanderer, Lewis’s vision is persuasive. Above all, it’s playing that possesses a profound confidence that has surely come from his wholesale immersion in the music of the composer, not just the solo piano works but chamber and vocal too.
In the A minor Sonata there’s a drive right from the outset, making what follows sound entirely inevitable; Lupu and Goode by contrast build the tension more slowly, placing more emphasis on its fantasy elements. Lupu may be peerless in the variation-form slow movement in terms of colouring and exquisitely observed drama but Lewis has the bigger view in mind, so his relatively steady second variation allows him to maintain the tempo in the demisemiquaver triplets of the fourth. The flickering unease of the Scherzo (foreshadowing the late sonatas) is beautifully caught too, as is the edginess of the finale, a movement that displays a similar disquiet to an earlier A minor Sonata, that of Mozart, K310.
Even in the Moments musicaux Lewis takes nothing at face value, exploring the darker side much more potently than some, particularly in the Second and Fifth, the latter more bleak than Cooper. He ends his programme with a striking performance of the discomfiting C minor Allegretto, playing up its unnerving qualities to powerful effect.
Even in a work as familiar as the Wanderer Fantasy Lewis makes it sound very much his own. There is a Richter-like sense of purpose right from the outset that makes what follows sound entirely inevitable – which is by no means always the case. He surmounts the sometimes intractable writing with ease but, equally vitally, his interpretation isn’t in any way lacking in soul, making much of the piece’s more contemplative passages. The D935 Impromptus, too, are a veritable box of delights, from the subtle narrative of No 2 to the way he plays with the syncopations of the fourth, as edgy-sounding as Zimerman, while he finds more heft than Pires or Fischer in the cataclysmic fortissimos.
A worthy continuation, then, of what is fast emerging as a benchmark Schubert series for our time.