Brahms: Seven Fantasies, Op.116
Haydn: Sonata in C Minor, Hob. XVI/20
Beethoven: Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33
Haydn: Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI/52
Although it has been offering memorable performances by musicians of the highest caliber in conveniently located venues at stunningly low prices for the past 118 years, the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts organization is not that well known, most likely because it has inexplicably been staying under the radar of most media outlets. On the other hand, this frustrating situation also means that music lovers can be spontaneous and get a more than reasonably priced ticket at the last minute.
This all changed last week though―at least when it comes to being unfairly ignored―when both The New Yorker and The New York Times mentioned that on Saturday evening, superb English pianist Paul Lewis would be giving his only New York concert of the season at the Washington Irving High School on Saturday evening. That would, of course, imply going to the Union Square area on a Saturday night, which for better or worse rarely fails to be an, errr, interesting experience, but then again, I knew it would be worth the hassle.
Sporting a short haircut that makes him look even younger, Paul Lewis is not one to collect himself before starting playing. He just sits down and does it. And what he did on Saturday evening, to begin with, were Brahms’ Seven Fantasies, a series of seven jewels that are short in duration and giant in expressiveness. Composed late in his life, they boast enigmatic melodies, rich textures and a wide range of emotions, which were all powerfully yet subtly conveyed by Lewis.
I have never associated Haydn with buoyancy, but his Sonata in C Minor sure lifted everybody’s spirits and some. The first work for piano that the composer actually called a sonata, and the most difficult one out of a set of seven, it is challengingly dense, but also wonderfully high-spirited. Constantly keeping the right balance between seriousness and fun, Lewis delivered a totally engaging performance of it, making papa Haydn cool again.
There was plenty of light-heated humor after intermission with Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles too, a couple of which spontaneously caused happy chuckles from the audience and knowing smiles from the player. It has to be pointed out though, that those so-called “trifles” were not just mere fluffy little things, but presented a wide range of complex and inventive elements that Lewis handled with aplomb and flair.
More Haydn was around the corner with his Sonata in E-flat Major, his last and, arguably, his most accomplished one. A truly virtuosic piece originally written for Therese Jansen, a truly virtuoso English pianist, it was played by another truly virtuosic English pianist on Saturday night. Big, bold and beautiful, with witty sparks, poetic musings and moments of unabashed luminosity, it was the perfect way to end the perfect recital. Or was it?
Because we made it clear that we were not ready to let him go yet, Lewis obligingly came back with Bagatelle No. 6 from Beethoven’s Opus 16. Another perfect way to end the perfect recital.