Pianist Paul Lewis has received great acclaim for his recent recordings of core piano works by Beethoven and Schubert, including all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, two of which he performs in Zankel Hall tomorrow night on a program that includes works by Bach and Liszt as well as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Lewis recently spoke to Listen: Life with Classical Music's Editor in Chief, Ben Finane. Read excerpts of their conversation below, or check out the full conversation on their site.
You can also hear a podcast of Lewis's Listen magazine interview here.
Listen: It’s interesting to think, too, of this idea of Beethoven and transcendence — transcending the form, perhaps, after working with it so much. Those late sonatas have a very liberal structure.
Lewis: It certainly develops in its own unique way, later on. A lot people say that Schubert struggled with the form as well. I’m not entirely sure that he did. If you look at the late Schubert sonatas, you have this incredible sense of space, whereas Beethoven often develops at high speed — everything is dense and busy.
But listening to your Beethoven again, I was struck by the legato and the rubato and the space that you give him. A lot of your movements aren’t geared toward shock and awe. There is a real reflection. I listened to your “Pathétique” this morning: a real sense of space and time.
Beethoven can be traditionally seen as this tempestuous, boisterous, outspoken unwashed
character, and that’s there for sure, but there’s a balance there, too: greater tenderness and space and time in there. When you spend years with this music, I guess you go through life seeing the balance differently when you come back to it.
My last movement of the “Pathétique,” maybe my tempo is slightly slower. There’s a little bit of melancholy there, a little bit of nostalgia.
Nostalgia even for the opening movement!
Yeah! For the drive and self-assurance of that opening movement. The last movement seems to be more reflective.
I’m reminded listening to these sonatas that Beethoven is always symphonic.
How do you take that into account? Do you try to establish a symphonic sound from the keyboard?
Absolutely. All the time. The greatest piano music requires thinking in terms of anything other than piano sound. [Laughs.] That’s the great thing about the piano: it can be many things. If it’s just a piano — a pure piano sound — I find it less interesting somehow. I think music that pushes you to think in terms of an orchestra or the more specific sounds of chamber music — like the slow movement of Opus 2, No. 2 could be a string quartet. Easily. And vocal as well: the last movement of Opus 90, it has a slightly Schubertian feel to it and you could imagine it sung. I think you have to be thinking consistently in these terms.
Read the full interview here.