Schubert: Piano Sonata in A, D959; Piano Sonata in B flat, D960

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata in A, D959; Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
PERFORMER: Paul Lewis (piano)
Paul Lewis’s reading of the A major Sonata can stand up to any current competition. He doesn’t have the driven ferocity of Stephen Kovacevich on EMI, and I’ll admit that there are one or two passages where he does pull Schubert’s punches slightly (except for the surprisingly theatrical added bass octave at the very end). As an overall conception, however, it’s exceptionally impressive. This is especially true in the weird musical storyline of the second movement, in which a sweetly melancholic Schubertian barcarolle yields temporarily to something like a minor apocalypse. Lewis grades and shapes the experience superbly, after which the tentative re-emergence of the lyrical voice from the earthquake, wind and fire is simply breathtaking. And so too – in a very different way – is the liquid delicacy of the Scherzo. Lewis doesn’t exaggerate, but he makes the super-contained András Schiff sound deadpan in comparison.


Much of the B flat Sonata is on the same level. The slow movement and the central development section of the first have a trance-like tension that seems to hang in the air long after the performance is over. Overall, Lewis doesn’t have the range of colour and magical intensity of Mitsuko Uchida, creator of what have to be some of the most mesmerising pianissimos on record. But his playing is still remarkable, both for technical control and depth of understanding. Lovely recordings, too, with the piano placed at what feels like the ideal distance.


Stephen Johnson