Classical CD Reviews
SCHUBERT: “Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major; 4 Impromptus; Piano Sonata in A Minor; 6 Moments Musicaux; Allegretto in C Minor – Paul Lewis, p. – Harmonia mundi
Published on October 29, 2012
SCHUBERT: “Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major, D. 760; 4 Impromptus, D. 935; Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845; 6 Moments Musicaux, D. 780; Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915 – Paul Lewis, piano – Harmonia mundi HMC 902136.37 (2 CDs) TT: 2 hrs 3 mins. ****:
Recorded at the Teldex Studio Berlin, December 2011 and March 2012, these essential Schubert works provide wonderful vehicles for Paul Lewis, especially the 1822 Wanderer Fantasy, which receives a reading from Lewis in the grand aggressive tradition set more than a generation ago by Gary Graffman. Lewis himself has embarked on a two-year concert tour devoted to the Schubert oeuvre, 1822-1828. His grasp of the C Major Fantasy proves most compelling, a taut conception that presents the opening motif and elaborates its many incarnations with virile propulsion and affectionate lyricism. No less architectural than physically driven, the piece under Lewis lays out its four united “movements” as an expansive canvas whose song The Wanderer provides its own plastic and harmonically fascinating modulations. The marvelous fugato section, leading to the mercurial coda, demonstrates the clarity of Lewis’ multiple voicings, quicksilver gradations of dynamics, allusions from the Beethoven Op. 111, and a singular brio.
The 1827 Impromptus could easily be construed as a sonata in f minor, and Lewis, like a great predecessor, Schnabel, does inject a degree of poise and taut drama into the four pieces – or movements – that imposes a strong sense of the sonata form in the first and a Hungarian rondo in the same key for a sense of closure in the fourth. Lewis plays games with the accents of the final piece, which itself challenges Lewis with explosive cross-modulations. Any lover of this set cherishes the B-flat Major No. 3, the so-called “Rosamunde” variants whose ornaments receive due homage by way of the Lewis palette.
Lewis approaches the 1825 A Minor Sonata somewhat in the manner of Beethoven, emphasizing its motor aggression, though its musical means prove more roundabout than Beethoven’s for expository narrative. A degree of fantasy and dreamy introspection characterizes the evolution of the first movement, despite the “fate” motif that follows repetitively after the chromatic opening motif. Lewis’ bass chords are worth a lesson all their own. The expansive C Major Andante proffers another of Schubert’s marvelous variation movements whose sudden shifts in key or accent move mountains. After a sparkling A Minor movement, Scherzo, the martial qualities of which hearken back to the first movement, The Rondo (Vivace) has Lewis realize a nervous exuberance in the form of a moto perpetuo that can become singularly manic. For a performance of equal balance of martial and mercurial forces, I’d look back to the old CBS inscription by Eugene Istomin.
The pieces composed 1823-1828 and assembled as 6 Moments Musicaux have had splendid inscriptions by diverse personalities, from Paul Badura-Skoda to Rudolf Serkin. Their mercurial, often haunted, melancholy beauties in unexpected key transitions still compel us to rethink their value as salon or dance music. The Bach-like C-sharp Minor has long provided my own theme tune for my radio program, in the Serkin rendition. The most purely lovely may well be the Andantino in A-flat Major, the second of the set, which Lewis grants lyrically genial scope, intimately thoughtful. No less expressively resonant are the leider-like F Minor miniature No. 3 and its parallel F Minor No. 5, but this time furioso. Most subtle of the set, the last, Allegretto, sets a nostalgic tone through Lewis’ impeccable sense of technical drama. Finally, Lewis renders an old Schnabel favorite, the C Minor Allegretto, a piece whose alternations of major and minor gain substance and dark nobility through this British pianist’s canny sensitivity to Schubert’s idiosyncratic style.