The last few months have seen a wonderful flow of Schubert recordings, and this new pair of discs from Paul Lewis only raises the standard yet higher. His playing of everything here is exemplary; if one were ever tempted to say a recording was ‘definitive’ then this is the time. He seems to know these works so well that he can afford to take the odd liberty with them, though he is also a self-effacing artist, identifiable only by the exalted standard he maintains. He has even managed to convert me to the Wanderer Fantasy, a work which I normally resist, finding it too insistent. Lewis gives it full weight, but balances assertiveness with the sombre grandeur of the melody which gives the work its name. Playing such as Lewis’s expands and extends my ideas about what Schubert could do; though, I have never doubted his protean genius.
Lewis shows, more than perhaps any pianist I have heard, how much latent violence there is in almost all Schubert’s writing for the piano, but without banging or making exaggerated contrasts between soft and loud passages. The first of the six Moments musicaux, for instance, one of the loveliest pieces Schubert wrote, rises to no more than forte in Lewis’s playing. But it still seems to contain a crucial element of protest that I haven’t ever heard in it before.
The largest piece on this recording, the A minor Sonata No. 16, is not the greatest work here, but even the passages where Schubert seems unsure what to do next take on a fascination.
I’d be surprised if any Schubert lover didn’t find these two discs a revelation.