Monday, 5 March 2018

PAUL LEWIS Piano Recital / Review

PAUL LEWIS Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (2 March 2018)

The great Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel once declared he played only “music that is better than it can be performed”. The same may be said about the repertoire of British pianist Paul Lewis for his four recitals in Singapore, the first of which took place this evening. Two Haydn sonatas were the bookends for short pieces by Beethoven and Brahms, a programme that was a celebration of Viennese classics.

Crisp articulation and humour occupied Haydn's Sonata No.50 in C major, sometimes known as his “English” Sonata. Often underrated, Haydn's music sparkled in Lewis' hands. Its 1st movement had both light and shade, aided by excellent pedalling which generated a crystalline texture which contrasted with staccato voices that was its main narrative. The serious slow movement was merely the prelude to a finale that ranked as Haydn's most witty – a good old C major rondo peppered with “wrong” harmonies, twists and turns that was pure comedy relief.

Then followed the Six Bagatelles Op.126 of Beethoven, sublime shorts from his late years. All different in character and colour, Lewis provided the necessary contrasts, alternating between slow and fast numbers which were either prayers, chorales or dances. The strains and drones of a hurdy-gurdy were heard in the fourth bagatelle, as earthy as Beethoven could possibly get. And then it was pure concentrated musical gold in the next number, which was simply celestial.

It was Schnabel who also said that he played recitals with “second halves that were as boring as the first halves”. He meant that as a joke, of course. Lewis's second half was a mirror image of the first, opening with Brahms Six Pieces Op.118 and closing with another Haydn sonata. Now the palette (or palate when it comes to musical sustenance) was firmly in the Romantic era. It was another kaleidoscopic show of musical characterisation in the pieces which included four Intermezzi, one Ballade and one Romance.

Passion (No.1) and melting lyricism (No.2) sat easily with rambunctiousness (No.3) and agitation (No.4), followed by the benediction of No.5 and what was to be Brahms' bleakest short piece. Dark clouds in E flat minor enveloped the last Intermezzo (No.6) in E flat minor, a portent of death and doom, before one last heroic struggle and final collapse. There was a long silence after its quiet close, before an eruption of appreciative applause.

Humour returned for a last time in Haydn's Sonata No.40 in G major, a work in only two movements. Simplicity ruled in the 1st movement's theme which got gradually more decorative in the ensuing short variations, and there were quirky shifts in dynamics thrown in to unsettle those who got a little too comfortable. The presto finale, breathless in intent, was thrown off like light fluff and its simple unadorned close drew both laughs and applause from the audience.

With all his jokes used up, Lewis offered as encores Schubert's darkly shaded Allegretto in C minor and a sneak preview of his next concert, a tiny Beethoven bagatelle (Op.119 No.11). Another evening of “music that is better than it can be played” is keenly awaited.     

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