Paul Lewis review – Schubert’s last works given a masterful treatment | Classical music

Over the last two years Paul Lewis has been working his way through Schubert’s piano sonatas, and he has now reached the fourth and last programme in his series. Logically enough it is devoted to the final three sonatas, in C minor, D958, A major D959, and in B flat, D960, a triptych that Schubert completed in September 1828, two months before his death.

Lewis is a wonderfully unfussy and straightforwardly lucid interpreter of these great works, judicious with his rubato, and never imposing unnecessary mannerisms on the music; whether structurally or texturally everything is consistently uncluttered. Turner Sims is a fine hall for piano recitals, and Lewis made the most of its clarity. And just as importantly, he was always at pains to allow the music the expressive space it requires, whether giving full weight to the silences that play such an important role in late Schubert, or letting the twists and shifts of the harmony work their magic.

That harmonic awareness was just as important here in the closing bars of the A major’s opening movement, where its assertive opening theme is finally recalled, but robbed of all its vigour, as it was in the moments of maximum intensity, such as the angry outbursts in the recitative-like sections of the same sonata’s slow movement. With the possible exception of the B flat sonata’s tinkling scherzo, there are very few unclouded passages in any of these works, but Lewis never overdid the anguish, so that when it did well up to the surface, its impact was all the greater.

After such outstanding accounts of the first two sonatas, though, the performance of the B flat after the interval was not quite on the same compelling level. There was just a hint of routine about the unfolding of the long first movement, while the tolling of the Andante was not quite as heart-rending as it can be. But this is to measure it against the standard that Lewis had previously set himself and that was a very high mark indeed.

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