Schubert Piano Sonata in B, D575; Weber Piano Sonata No. 2 in A flat
Paul Lewis (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902324 57:34 mins
In the 19th century Weber’s piano sonatas were regarded as fully on a level with Beethoven’s, and although no one these days is likely to take that view seriously they have been championed by some distinguished pianists. Notably, in the case of the A flat Sonata No. 2, by Paul Lewis’s former teacher Alfred Brendel, and by Alfred Cortot, whose mercurial 1939 recording is in a class of its own. It’s a work that gives us an idea of Weber’s own powers as a pianist, and of the size of his hands: some of the left-hand chords in the first movement are seemingly impossible to stretch, and even Liszt provided simplified alternatives when he edited the sonata. The most original of its four movements is the Menuetto capriccioso – actually much more akin to a scherzo than a minuet. Its breathlessly fast, swirling phrases give way in the trio section to a soaring tune that brings us close to the world of Weber’s famous Invitation to the Dance. Lewis’s performance of the Sonata is warm and affectionate, without, perhaps, always achieving the intensity that Brendel brings to the music. There are passages in the finale, for instance, that Weber wants played Passionato, or Con fuoco, and here Lewis is perhaps a little too easy-going, though his playing is so elegant that it’s hard to complain.
Schubert’s early sonata in the unusual key of B major finds him experimenting with curious key-schemes and abrupt changes of mood. Lewis handles them very convincingly, and his performance is one that affords real pleasure throughout.