Schubert: Piano Sonata in A minor, D784; Piano Sonata in C minor, D958

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi Les nouveaux musiciens
WORKS: Piano Sonata in A minor, D784; Piano Sonata in C minor, D958
PERFORMER: Paul Lewis (piano)
Ask a roomful of pianists what composer provides the ultimate litmus test of the true musician-pianist, and most are likely to answer ‘Mozart’. The problem with Mozart is perfection. He achieved it indecently often. But I’m not sure I wouldn’t nominate Schubert. The problem with Schubert, who was in many ways a comparable genius from a purely musical point of view, is his imperfection. His piano-writing is often less than perfectly idiomatic, his polyphony is not automatically self-revealing, he combines extraordinary delicacy and subtlety with symphonic grandeur and weight, in a not always easy mixture, and his large-scale structures can sprawl, tempting pianists into a kind of pre-emptive monumentality that inhibits the continuous movement that is also there. Solve all that and you’re a true artist. On the evidence of this debut disc, Paul Lewis is just such a pianist. A big thinker who doesn’t make a big deal of it, a masterly and resourceful technician for whom technique is never more than a means to an end, a dramatist with an instinct for characterisation which is a stranger to exaggeration, this is indeed an artist truly worthy of the name. Like all the best performances, the playing is of such command and conviction that it pushes all thought of others straight out of one’s head. It doesn’t, for me, supersede Brendel’s of the C minor (unusually, I marginally prefer his earlier Vanguard version to the later one on Philips) or Lupu’s of the A minor, but no buyer of this disc is likely to feel short-changed. Jeremy Siepmann