Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2013

Paul Lewis

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 24, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Paul Lewis was originally scheduled to play a Mozart piano concerto with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. When that ensemble cancelled for lack of funding, the rising young English pianist decided to present a solo concert of the last three piano sonatas by Franz Schubert instead.

Having recorded and performed these pieces elsewhere to wide acclaim, Lewis easily met the technical and interpretive challenges of this daunting program. All three sonatas were written during the summer of 1828, only months before Schubert’s untimely death at age 31. Lewis is a physical pianist, who brings his whole body to bear on the keyboard, but always in an organic way that disdains mere showmanship. His overall demeanor was modest and businesslike.  

The C minor sonata, D. 958, got the concert off to a dramatic start. Lewis took the opening “Allegro” movement at a brisk but moderate tempo, with a subtle and tasteful rubato that he used throughout the evening to enhance the natural flow and expressive power of the music. His rendition of the following “Adagio” movement was deeply expressive. In the A major sonata, D. 959, his relaxed approach to the closing “Rondo” movement, following a mercurial “Scherzo” and “Trio,” capped a performance on an unusually grand scale.

The B-flat major sonata, D. 960, which followed intermission, is generally ranked as Schubert’s greatest sonata, but by omitting the first movement repeat, Lewis emphasized its kinship with its two sibling sonatas rather than its distinction as the composer’s final statement in this form. The delicacy of Lewis’s playing and his careful attention to inner voices that are not always heard so clearly was especially evident in the poignant “Andante sostenuto” and the fleeting “Scherzo.” An energetic finale brought this inspired performance to a rousing close.  

The house at Ozawa Hall was less than full, but the enthralled audience gave Lewis a prolonged standing ovation at the end of this auspicious Tanglewood debut by a major international talent who will hopefully be invited back soon.