Paul Lewis 50th Birthday concert at the Barbican
Paul Lewis’s extraordinary musicianship shone through every note of the much loved Pathétique that opened his celebratory recital.
The weight and meaning he brought to such a well worn piece was a revelation of simplicity and sensitivity.There was also a control of sound and transcendental command of the keyboard much to do with his masterly use of the pedals.
The arresting opening was like a call to arms with the beseeching reply that immediately created a rhythmic tension that was the undercurrent of all he did.
An ‘Adagio Cantabile’ that was allowed to flow so simply with a sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing so naturally.
The rondo was played with a delicious twinkle in his eye and with such subtle shading.
The five Mendelssohn songs without words were linked to the six Sibelius Bagatelles and were a continuous stream of ravishing sounds played with a sense of style and charm that brought each of these charming pieces to life .
The title ‘songs without words’ was an anomaly as they did speak in Paul Lewis’s hands so eloquently.
We have not heard Mendelssohn in the concert hall for too long.I well remember the same musicianship and beauty that Paul Lewis brought to them today as Serkin and Perahia had done too many years ago.
Have the opening chords of Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie ever sounded so beautiful?
A fantasy or dream world that Chopin shares with us with the Polonaise a voice in the distant past.
There was such an aristocratic sense of rubato that brought to Chopin’s ever more Bellinian inspired melodic line with heart rending simplicity of rare beauty.
The accumulation of trills in lesser hands,usually hammered home, here were played with the same fantasy that had pervaded the entire performance of this late masterpiece.
The triumphant polonaise was the consequence of the exciting transcendental build up that Paul Lewis had kept up his sleeve.
But now all hell was let loose with sumptuous full sounds and driving rhythmic excitement.But even here Chopin returns to the fantasy in the final few bars where the tension is relaxed and the final chord is the consequence of the fantasy world that Chopin has revealed to us in his final years.
Paul may have exclaimed at the end of his extraordinary ‘Appassionata’Sonata,’I’m still only forty nine ………until tomorrow.’
That is already ten more years on this earth than Chopin was to enjoy……if that is the word for a weak and ailing composer who had born a lifelong nostalgia for the land he had left as a teenager.
It is well known that Paul Lewis left behind him the world of the virtuoso to emerse himself in the Viennese classics under the guidance of Alfred Brendel.
It was indeed Brendel ‘s performance that sprang to mind as I listened to Paul Lewis today.
Of course Brendel could be more brittle edged than Paul could ever be.Paul’s poetic soul shone through everything he did but the drive and architectural shape he brought to the Appassionata was the same.
The precision and scrupulous attention to Beethoven’s very precise markings whether it be the rhythmic urgency and precision of the opening fanfares or the long held pedals that Beethoven scatters in the score of the Allegro assai .
An ‘Andante con moto ‘ with the quality of string quartet where every strand had a meaning and only added to the full sound of a cortège.
Little could we have expected the assault that he brought to the exciting coda of the last movement -well,Beethoven does mark it Presto and he does ask for the pedal to be left on for the final massive accumulation of sounds.
This I have not heard with such animal excitement since that performance of Paul’s mentor in the QEH too many years ago.
A spontaneous standing ovation brought what must be the highlight of this memorable concert.A ‘re-enactment’ of a piece that Paul tells us he learnt when he was 12.
The ‘Gollywogs Cake Walk’ was played with the same irresistible charm and character that Horowitz was to bring to ‘The snow is dancing’ years ago on his return to the stage in 1968.
Here the Gollywog was given full reign,letting his hair down and having a ball.
The sumptuous melody that interrupts the cake walk was commented on with such tongue in cheek replies.Paul even looking at the public and rolling his eyes as he brought this delightful bijou vividly to life.
What a way to end your first half century and I look forward to what delights he has in store for us in his second!
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No 8 in C minor, Pathétique Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio. Adagio cantabile. Rondo: Allegro
No 1 in E major from Songs without words, Op 19
No 3 in G minor from Songs without words, Op 53
No 2 in E-flat major from Songs without words, Op 53
No 2 in A minor from Songs without words, Op 19
No 3 in E major from Songs without words, Op 30
Jean Sibelius Six Bagatelles. Humoreske I. Lied. Kleiner Walzer. Humoristischer Marsch. Impromptu. Humoreske II
Frédéric Chopin Polonaise-fantaisie op 61
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No 23 in F minor, Appassionata Allegro assai. Andante con moto. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
Paul Lewis is one of today’s foremost interpreters of the Central European piano repertoire, his performances and recordings of Beethoven and Schubert receiving universal critical acclaim. He was awarded a CBE for his services to music in 2016, and the sincerity and depth of his musical approach have won him fans around the world. This global popularity is reflected in the world-class orchestras with whom he works and the international concert halls and festivals where he performs.Born in Liverpool in 1972, Paul studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Joan Havill before going on to study privately with Alfred Brendel. He quickly became a favourite with London’s concert audience in particular, and has performed at the Wigmore Hall over 100 times, as well as making regular appearances at the Barbican, Southbank Centre and the BBC Proms, where he was the first pianist to perform all 5 Beethoven piano concerti in a single season in 2010.His award-winning and extensive discography for Harmonia Mundi ranges from Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Weber through to Schumann, Liszt, Mussorgsky and Brahms. He has also recorded Schubert ‘s 3 lieder cycles with Mark Padmore.In addition to his busy concert career Paul and his wife Bjørg are co-Artistic Directors of the Midsummer Music festival in Buckinghamshire. He makes his debut solo recital at the Barbican Centre tonight in celebration of his 50th birthday.
John Leech in his 97th year and founder of the Keyboard Trust with Noretta Conci proudly tells me that Paul Lewis was the first artist selected by Noretta to benefit from the Trust.Celebrating it’s 30th anniversary with the publication of ‘The Gift of Music ’.A book about the activity of the trust that John had up for his wife on her sixtieth birthday.A retirement gift!! I met John on his 60th birthday when they accompanied Leslie Howard to play in my concert series in Rome 37 years ago!………I have been involved with the trust and young musicians ever since ………..such is their power of persuasion!