Paul Lewis

Concert date: 21 September 2013
Reviewed by: JRC

Paul Lewis, international superstar pianist, unsurprisingly drew a full house for his NADSA Concert at Teignmouth Performing Arts Centre last Saturday. There was a greater than usual buzz of anticipation from an audience that included even London glitterati.

He personally introduced his programme, explaining that each Bach chorale would be followed by a Beethoven Sonata with little break, thus dividing the first half of the concert into two sections, both in traditional forms of structure and harmony. This was to be contrasted with the extraordinarily innovative, almost modern, works of 'late' Liszt and Mussorgsky that would follow after the interval.

The first Bach chorale [arr: Busoni] was much more than a comfortable opening. Both Bach and Lewis took us through some beautiful and intricate patterns. By the time of the small break before the Beethoven, the audience was enraptured. Anticipation can be such a cruel friend; but here it was fuel to the emotions. The venue, more intimate than the Wigmore Hall, enhanced a sense of occasion, and the highly charged atmosphere led several members of the audience to comment later that the silences were palpable. A Beethoven sonata followed, seemingly as a natural progression and expansion of form and style.

Another Bach chorale was followed by Beethoven's 'Moonlight' sonata, where, for me, his programme's risk-taking began. The first few bars [so hackneyed, sometimes to the point of burlesque], were played very straight; like Bach? However the style developed imperceptibly into a magical world: then, in subsequent movements, Beethoven's broad and colourful palate was given full expression. Lewis' world famous exposition of Beethoven was a wonder to experience live.

Liszt's miniatures gave us a vivid contrast; phrases, harmonies and now dissonances being juxtaposed in very different ways. Knowing we were next to be taken to a picture exhibition, I found myself wondering whether Mussorgsky had heard these Liszt works.

The first few bars of the Mussorgsky were indeed pedestrian: then we were grasped by a warm hand and taken to a series of musical artistic abstractions. As we moved from picture to picture the progression was less from frame to frame, more from one dramatic encounter to another. Lewis' conviction and involvement with such emotions transported the audience to a grand finale.

Applause brought Lewis back for an encore which was another Liszt miniature of intense subtlety; exactly right for quelling some of the audience's exuberance.

It was only then that Paul Lewis told us that this was the first occasion he had played the Mussorgsky in public, and he had wondered how he would feel at the end. Then we realised that we had heard a preview of Paul's latest world tour programme. Hopefully NASDA Concerts will be able to book Paul for another recital in years to come. At least travelling to the Westcountry involves no jet-lag.

Bach [arr: Busoni]Chorale Prelude BWV 639
BeethovenSonata for piano No 13 in E flat major, Op.27 No.1
Bach [arr: Busoni]Chorale Prelude BWV 659
BeethovenSonata for piano No 14 in C sharp minor, Op.27 No.2 'Moonlight'
LisztLate miniatures S203, S208 and S201
MussorgskyPictures at an Exhibition