Paul Lewis Brings Schubert to Life at Symphony Center

United StatesUnited States Schubert: Paul Lewis (piano), Symphony Center, Chicago. 16.10.2011, (JLZ)

Music by Franz Schubert

Impromptus, D. 935

No. 1 in F minor, Allegro moderato
No. 2 in A-flat major, Allegretto
No. 3 in B-flat major, Andante
No. 4 in F minor, Allegro scherzando

Moments musicaux, D. 780

No. 1 in C major, Moderato
No. 2 in A-flat major, Andantino
No. 3 in F minor, Allegro moderato
No. 4 in C-sharp minor, Moderato
No. 5 in F minor, Allegro vivace
No. 6 in A-flat major, Allegretto
Fantasy in C major, D. 760 (“Wanderer”)

Encore: Allegretto in C minor, D. 900

The latest concert in Paul Lewis’s two-year series “Schubert and the Piano, 1822-1828” brought to Chicago compelling interpretations of three major works. The first half was devoted to the Impromptus, D. 935, and Lewis distinctively brought forth each piece’s individual character. His phrasing allowed the structures to emerge clearly, coupled with a fine sense of style. He maintained the dancelike qualities of the Impromptu in A-flat major, benefiting from his nuance, yet with the Impromptu in F minor Lewis brought out its virtuosic qualities. Had the concert concluded at this point, it would have been satisfactory.

Yet the second half rivaled the first in the thoughtful readings of the Moments musicaux, D. 780, with Lewis giving them the individual treatment they deserve, with sometimes understated delivery. The conclusion of the first piece was only one of his feats to be savored, although the one in F-minor showed his impeccable technique.

Lewis delivered a brilliant reading of the Fantasy in C minor, D. a760, with a mastery that reveals his deep knowledge of the work. The opening Allegro con fuoco had clarity, as he shaped each of its sections to give a sense of a seamless whole. The Presto offered myriad details, with the final Allegro making a brilliant and convincing conclusion. As a result of the enthusiastic response, Lewis offered a substantial encore, the Allegretto in C minor, D. 900, which complemented the entire program.

Since it is early in the season, it would be useful for the audience to do its best to allow the music to be heard without interruption. The first of the Moments musicaux was accompanied by a woman who failed to realize that the rest of us came to hear Paul Lewis, not her. “Shh” must have not been a part of her language, and failed to alert the ushers to her unwanted presence. In addition to the coughing, which sometimes filled the space between Lewis’s phrases, some individuals brought bottled water to the hall and had the temerity to twist open the plastic caps and later, allow the cheap plastic to squeeze back into shape – all without apology. It is difficult to believe that audience members could not resist their personal impulses so the rest of us could enjoy this exceptional performance.

James L. Zychowicz