Paul Lewis Gets to the Heart of Schubert’s Piano Works

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Paul Lewis, piano

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If pianists can be broadly divided into the thinkers and the slash-and-burn virtuosos, the shaggy-haired Englishman Paul Lewis would fall squarely in the former category.

Having made his name as a Vienna specialist, Lewis recently recorded one of the most acclaimed modern accounts of all 32 Beethoven sonatas. He is now embarking on a recording cycle of Schubert piano music, the latest installment of which showcases very different sides of the composer, from the intimate Moments Musicaux to the epic Sonata in A minor, D. 845.

Lewis, 40, was born and raised in Liverpool, the son of a dock worker father and public administrator mother. Despite a modest upbringing he applied himself to classical music, visiting the local public library to borrow albums of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. At 14, he became a piano student at Cheltham's School of Music in Manchester. He moved on to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London and when renowned pianist Alfred Brendel heard him play, he took Lewis on as a student. Competition wins and a busy touring schedule followed.

Brendel’s influence can be heard in Lewis’s choice of Austro-German repertoire but the younger artist brings his own voice to this most romantic of repertoire. Schubert's emotional turmoil and unbridled lyricism comes through in the A-minor Sonata, one of four or five masterpieces of Schubert's late years. Lewis doesn’t back off from the bursts of spiraling passagework and complex counterpoint. He finds the poetic nuances in the Wanderer Fantasy and projects a warm, inviting sound in the Four Impromptus, D. 935.

Lewis will perform three Schubert sonatas at Alice Tully Hall on Oct. 20. Watch a video of the pianist performing the Moments Musicaux No. 4 in Amsterdam and share your reactions in the comments below:

Paul Lewis
Schubert, Works for Piano, Vol. 2
Harmonia Mundi
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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