Bach: Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 7
Chopin: Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Chopin: Waltz in F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2
Chopin: Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 (Minute Waltz)
Weber: Sonata No. 2 in A-flat Major, Op. 39
Last week was a good one for piano lovers in the Big Apple. After Mitsuko Uchida at Carnegie Hall on Thursday evening, Paul Lewis, who may very well be the most exciting export from Liverpool since the Beatles, was giving his one and only New York recital at the historic Town Hall on Sunday afternoon courtesy of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts.
As an additional incentive, the program would feature some works that are not heard frequently, such as Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 and Weber’s Sonata No. 2, alongside more familiar pieces such as Bach’s Partita No. 1 and a couple of waltzes by Chopin, which all together were more than reason enough to sacrifice a couple of hours of gorgeous spring weather without any remorse or regrets, hike all the way to midtown, and enjoy the music.
It is hard to go wrong with Bach when you have the right musician, and Lewis proved to be just that on Sunday afternoon as he navigated the six expertly crafted movements of the Partita No. 1 with genuine ease and a slight touch of Romanticism, from the sunny liveliness of the Allemande to the breathless bounciness of the Gigue. That said, my personal highlight was the sublime Sarabande, whose intricate textures and undisturbed serenity beautifully stood out among the other more vivacious movements.
We next moved on to more muscular sounds with Beethoven’s early Sonata No. 4, which has remained his second longest one, right after the Himalayan Hammerklavier. Although the music was still fairly traditional, especially for the ground-breaker he was about to become, the work’s unusual scope was announced right at the beginning with an intensely tumultuous first movement, which gave even Lewis a pause after it was over, before he proceeded the poetic Largo, the light-hearted Allegro and the animated Rondo. The general consensus could probably be summed up by the woman behind me who called it “a hell of a piece”.
After intermission, we got to indulge in a little bit of Chopin with three lovely waltzes of his, including the popular “Minute Waltz”, which made a lot of audience members spontaneously swoon with happiness. Ever the imperturbable Englishman, Lewis handled those reliable crowd-pleasers with confidence and brio.
The least-known composer on the program – although in all fairness he was facing pretty stiff competition – was Carl Maria von Weber, and he definitely acquired quite a few new fans on Sunday with his all-around appealing Sonata No. 2. Overflowing with attractive melodies, vivid colors and passionate emotions, the unabashedly Romantic piece insistently tugged at our heart-strings while making excellent use of Lewis’s virtuosic skills all the way to the understated ending. That was the wild card of the afternoon for many of us, and we were certainly glad we stuck around for it.
The encore, which we earned through a long and loud ovation, was a delightful little parting gift by Schubert, which he delivered with his signature care and delicacy. And then we were all off in the gorgeous spring afternoon again.