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Paul Lewis and friends, Wigmore Hall, London
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:01:46 GMT
Paul Lewis©Jack Liebeck

Paul Lewis

A defining moment was the reprise of the scherzo theme in Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op 9 No 3. Although I had been fully expecting it, I almost lurched out of my seat. In the hands of violist Lawrence Power, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and cellist Bjørg Lewis, this driven theme rang out like a gunshot.

The concert, featuring works from “old Vienna”, was part of Wigmore Hall’s series celebrating the British pianist Paul Lewis. So it’s interesting that the most compelling offering was the Trio, during which Lewis was left to twiddle his thumbs. We heard an interpretation full of passion, every contrast flamboyantly exaggerated for maximum shock effect. There was plenty of drawing-room refinement — in the main theme of the second movement, for example. But these players are unafraid to uglify Beethoven, rasping and growling their way through the finale, at some points sounding almost feral.

Yet this piece is more tame than the Cello Sonata in C, Op 102 No 1, which the composer wrote almost 20 years later, in 1815. Strange, then, that here the latter work sounded much the milder-mannered of the two, as performed by husband and wife team Bjørg and Paul Lewis. She excelled in passages of soulful contemplation. His main contribution was a silk-fingered touch, perfectly suited to the sonata’s gentle opening. Together they underscored the work’s “classical” elegance. What was lacking, however, was the passion that had made the trio performance so thrilling. That’s why the transition from the slow introduction to the ferocity of the Allegro was not the shock to the system that it should have been.

But the couple’s graceful brand of musicianship found a more fitting home in Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A D667, the “Trout Quintet”, for which they were joined by Sitkovetsky, Power and the double bassist Alois Posch. This was a beautifully blended performance, full of charm and an easy sense of give-and-take. There’s little room for storm clouds in this babbling, sun-drenched soundscape. Nevertheless, when they did appear — as in the third movement — the players gave it their all.

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