Beethoven and Schubert have long been the cornerstones of Paul Lewis’s repertory, and for his Wigmore Hall/Radio 3 lockdown recital, he gave us a work by each, linking Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata Op 27, No 2 (“Quasi una fantasia”) with Schubert’s G Major Sonata D 894, dubbed “Fantasie” by its first publisher.
Despite its familiar nickname, the Moonlight is far from serene, and Lewis’s probing interpretation opened in a mood of deep introversion, slowly gaining intensity and darkening in tone as it went. The elegant, brief Scherzo, with its astringent Trio, countered its sombreness, while the fiercely articulated final Presto was breathtaking in its fiery excitement and accuracy, the muscularity that tellingly offsets the grace of Lewis’s playing very much to the fore.
Lewis’s Schubert, meanwhile, is characterised by a spaciousness of approach, an unforced lyricism and subtleties of dynamic gradation that enable him to explore the music’s emotional ambiguities, while at the same time allowing it to breathe and sing. He carefully exposed both the harmonic ambivalence and shafts of turbulence that undermine the sublimity of the G major sonata’s first movement, and the sad, sweet nostalgia and longing of its Andante. The formal poise of the Minuet was countered by the exquisite introspection of the Trio, while intimations of melancholy intruded on the ebb and flow of the final Allegretto.
This was a wonderful performance, its bittersweet mood persisting into the single encore, Beethoven’s G Major Bagatelle Op 126, No 5, played with understated refinement, and rounding off a beautiful recital.
• Available on BBC Sounds and Wigmore Hall.