CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2012)

SCHUBERT Piano Sonatas
Impromptus / Piano Pieces
Harmonia Mundi 902115.16 (2 CDs) / *****

In a relatively short space of time, British pianist Paul Lewis has established himself as an interpreter par excellence of Beethoven and Schubert, much in the footsteps of his teacher and mentor Alfred Brendel. In this latest Schubert album, he illuminates three important sonatas which are not part of the great final trilogy. Fully attuned to Schubert’s emotional turmoil and unbridled lyricism, the D major Sonata D.850 is driven with a Beethovenian passion. However this is not in the expense of its inner singing lines, and this thread carries into the great G major Sonata D.894, which has been given the title “Fantaisie” by some because of its relatively free form.

Listen to how he stretches out the first movement’s long-breathed melody, one of Schubert’s finest, or teases the finale’s jolly Rondo, which has a swing that looks far ahead into the ragtime era.  The C minor Sonata D.840 “Relique” (Relic) is the “Unfinished Sonata”, which exists as a torso of two movements. Imagine if he had completed it. Lewis’s sense of gravity, bringing out the odd and ironic dissonances, makes it sound like a masterpiece. This same quest for truth and beauty continues in Four Impromptus D.899 (the earlier of two sets) and Three Piano Pieces D.946, the latter of which have sometimes been referred to as Posthumous Impromptus. One scarcely imagines these more wondrously realised. This superlative double CD set retails at the price of one disc.

PAUL LEWIS plays Schubert
@ Singapore International Piano Festival 2012
28 June 2012, SOTA Concert Hall, 8pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

HÉROLD Piano Concertos Nos.2-4
Sinfonia Varsovia / Hervé Niquet
Mirare 127 / ****1/2

The short-lived French composer Louis-Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833) is best remembered for his operas, such as Zampa, the overture of which is occasionally heard in concerts. He had initially been a piano virtuoso but forsook that vocation for musical theatre, after having composed four piano concertos between 1811 and 1813. These tuneful works bridge the stylistic gap between the classicists Mozart, Hummel and Weber (simple melodies with florid ornamentation), and those of early Romantics Mendelssohn and Chopin (passionate and showy, given to loud octaves and chords).

Both the Second and Third Concertoshave Allegro Maestoso (fast and majestically) as tempo directions in the first movement, something which Chopin also adopted in his concertos. The Fourth Concerto opens with a barnstorming Allegrothat recalls the fist-shaking angst of Beethoven. All three close with light-hearted rondos, a common practice from Mozart’s time to the Romantic era. Herold also had innovations of his own. The slow movement of the Third Concerto is a tender romance for violin with piano accompaniment, something not attempted before or ever since.  Young French pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuberger is a most sympathetic yet technically assured interpreter. This is a curious yet worthy addition to the Romantic piano concerto library.