Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor; Nuages gris; Richard Wagner – Venezia; Unstern! Sinistre, disastro; La lugubre gondola II; En rêve

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Nuages gris; Richard Wagner – Venezia; Unstern! Sinistre, disastro; La lugubre gondola II; En rêve
PERFORMER: Paul Lewis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901845
Like his mentor Alfred Brendel, Paul Lewis is a thinking virtuoso who approaches Liszt’s B minor Sonata with forthright sincerity, textual rigour and an avoidance of showmanship that occasionally spills over into self-denial. On the plus side, the songful simplicity of introspective moments like the lyrical D major theme, the central Recitativos, the soft, downward scales prior to the Fughetta and the concluding Andante sostenuto result from Lewis taking Liszt’s explicit dynamic and expressive directives on faith. His chimerical voicing of the Fughetta, too, positively reels with harmonic tension. By contrast, swirling arpeggios and rapid passagework fall short of the scintillation and dramatic sweep one finds in Claudio Arrau’s massive toned theatricality or Martha Argerich’s febrile impulsiveness, to name more convincing (and utterly disparate) accounts. However, Lewis makes the most of the bleak contours and cryptic ideas characterising Liszt’s late pieces. Notice, for example, the range of sound he brings to the unison octaves throughout Unstern! Sinistre, disastro and the left-hand tremolos of Nuages gris. His discreet inflections enliven the Four Little Pieces and En rêve while safeguarding them from excess sentiment. Lewis’s inspiration particularly catches fire in the second La lugubre gondola, where his disembodied sonority imbues the undulating middle section with an appropriately spooky shimmer. Most first-year pianists can sightread the stark, slow-moving scales concluding this piece, but listen to Lewis painstakingly weighing and shaping each note to its expressive maximum: he obviously did his practice! Jed Distler

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