The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, October 11, 2010

BBC - Chipping Campden Festival. Paul Lewis recital - on theme of darkness to light - St. James' Church. Gloucestershire, England. 20.5.2010.

Paul Lewis opened this program he gave at St James Church in Chipping Campden, (Gloucestershire), also festival founded by him - with the Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, a both particularly unusual (partly in choice of key) and somber piece from Mozart. The concept in the mind of Paul Lewis in so unusually opening his program - recital he has also given in the U.S., Australia, and Canada carried with it a darkness-to-light motif - to quote him in interview - on most subtle, aesthetically achieved terms.

The Adagio in B Minor was written apparently very close chronologically to the D Major Piano Concerto, that beneath its cheerful exterior, not unusual for quite all of Mozart’s late-period work, betrays an anxiety, fatigue never so encountered before in his concerti. One has the irony elsewhere, such as in the three ‘Prussian’ or late quartets, of Mozart's music flooded by the sunniest of mood throughout - even some infusion of jocularity such as these works exhibit. This Adagio hones on in on a most deeply inner world - the reality of Mozart’s situation at the time. Paul Lewis wisely found fine combination of simplicity and quiet despondency in this encounter - with his direct manner for sighing octave consequents to lied-like start to this piece.

With descending line for inverted second theme, following openly singing closing theme to the Exposition, Lewis, to start the Development, subtly evoked the left hand written out harmonic spelling. Repeated affirmation of descending line in coda, which makes way toward only achieving half-resolution (even while on tonic triad of B Major) was purposefully shaped, soon after mildly affecting surprise with expanding line toward end of Recapitulation into brief right hand arpeggio Neapolitan chord (C Major) triplets - hinting at Schumann to come. Sense of fullness in achieving everything made quite affecting this piece's relative irresolution.

What 'explosion of passion' there was to open the Schmann Fantasy in C, Opus 17, entered both flowingly and incrementally – all supplemented by subtle pedaling. Such luminous frame and interior bespoke a fine turbulence to be developed well within. A little risk of clipping anticipation of contrasting idea in minor mode hardly held up freely developing argument to follow. Singing line, subtly doubled in left hand, spun forth, but in the supertonic (D Minor), brief development to follow worked out pensively to calm resolution in F Major - toward hearing development spinning forth from the opening theme as fully achieved. Well articulated start to Development made way into restating opening to the first movement with sense of arrival complete.

Early (and mildly clipped before) anticipated theme in minor mode emerged fully sung out with fine sense of striving through both it and its getting developed – freely including brief episode of scherzo-like line of off-beat broken triplets in right hand; all found sufficient rest in very evenly paced simple plaintive conclusion in the right hand. Paul Lewis's making eloquent a sung duet between hands in E-Flat made final re-achieving of C Major with first theme on purpose seem mildly inconclusive. Shimmering treble chords carried ardently contrastingly reassuring repeated refrain to reach out toward on purpose perhaps not fully attained ideal of peaceful resolution to the first movement.

Lewis produced noble, masculine profile to big chords to open the march – opening mezzo-forte dynamic astutely observed. Dotted rhythm lines to follow, often so heavily, jerkily played had current of well sustained line and animation to internally run through them. Agitation ascending toward grand reprise of opening statement happened in subtle gradations while maintaining fine voicing through it all. Trio section, led by romantically singing lower right hand, flowed forward, with most supple inclusion therein of alternating lower voices and quiet echoing above. Contrast between ardor and caprice in willfully playful development of ideas had both spin, feed off each other freely, allas suffused by in light tone of introspection. Lewis - following much playing as remindful of Solomon as of Brendel - strongly profiled the dotted rhythm, ascending line to truly heroically conceived march reprise. Final chord to coda Lewis allowed after release to briefly resonate, following lightly pointed parody preceding it.

The slow finale opened with deeply cushioning resonance and luminosity, with duet sung out between hands through interlocking harmonic shifts to intimate at and synthesize recall or hint of harmonic transitions from the opening movement. Gentle push to the music's own picking up of pace through sustaining further spelling, voicing out of harmonic development, freed overall line up for genuine development of harmonically rich material at hand - all risk avoided of making smother-halla out of this. Right hand descending line, more searchingly than before, fully intimated deeply achieved reverie at hand - coming off affirmation to conclude first half of this wordless song.

Slightly impulsive push forward off second affirmation to help bring all to a close was as to simply report goal satisfyingly achieved, after much subtly revolving inquest into deep recesses of the soul, freely intimated interacting voices within fully reckoned. It is rare for recent performance of the Schumann Fantasy to satisfy one so well. Assisting here was both the quality of both instrument Lewis was playing and St James acoustics; most fulfilling was Paul Lewis's unaffected feel for form and romantic poetry to fill all out.

Veritable tone poem, the celebrated Vallee d'Obermann (Anness de Pelerinege I), opened the second half. Paul Lewis opted for the more standard revised version of the piece; given the quality of the playing here, he could have made interesting enough case for the more predictably organized, even pedantic original version. There was never getting too overcome by vastness of scale or of brilliance of the writing - display of Lisztian virtuosity here not the point. The richly colored descending line, limning deep sense of grief, of perceived loss Paul Lewis shaped in spacious and deeply felt manner, through numerous subtle changes of harmony - even affecting visual perspective.

C Major reprise of main theme in place of second theme – where conventional relative major reprise of main theme emerged before - had beautiful halo riding aloft – anticipating several vistas through which to traverse in Beethoven to follow – plus as though to hear idea as close cousin to prominently dreamy descending line in Schumann finale right before. Sense of much churning underneath craggy boulders, cliffs across one’s path was encountered next – momentary sense of peril also ubiquitous. One did not hear mere display of broken, rolling octaves instead. Lewis's tone remained warm and rich through lied-like maggiore reprise of the leading theme, through glowingly depicted bright horizon to operatically enunciated refrain (coda), right past fleeting reminder of brooding that had opened, filled out the body of this Byronic inspiration.

Fully achieved light emerged with the Sonata, Opus 53, of Beethoven. Lewis played entire cycle of the Beethoven thirty-two several years ago. He showed much promise in his command of playing, interpreting the sonatas, yet also was exposed numerous places where his grasp of certain passages was still tentative - even moments where he opted for artifice to attempt covering up lapses still lingering about.

Not to worry here. One would be hard pressed to find even nearly halfway recent interpretation of the 'Waldstein' more definitive than achieved here. Retuning today to his still fine 2006 HM recording - out of complete cycle - it was the playing at this festival - highly likely for other stops during same world-wide tour with same program that had the greater fluidity, imagination, more definitive shape. His opening up of much space in the intermezzo between the two big movements framing the sonata was as such to transport one to another world, including his deft but firm limning of harmonic changes to make transition into the final rondo - so undercut by others for spinning forth early figuration too hurriedly. His vocalized style phrasing of the opening to the intermezzo and call-from-afar phrasing of the same upon its reprise was most unaffected, just real.

Subtle differentiated pedaling between how first mysteriously opening staccato thirds in the first movement emerged – then with them getting more dryly articulated later, was highly imaginative – right-hand replies subtly varied as well. Lewis’s proportioning of transitions between themes - and then vastly conceived, yet precisely articulated canvas for first half of the Development - was at once classically adept - subtle allargando freely, beautifully sculpted in. Spinning forth of elaborate retransition off what had preceded became volcanic – with how fully, organically prepared everything was.

Paul Lewis eschewed bejeweling the second theme of the first movement; avoidance as such holds back excessive, too soon anticipation of arrival and also makes more nobly hieratic its expression as well - such insight for which we return to Solomon's Beethoven recordings. The simplicity of avoiding at all cost framing or enveloping such a passage - first time it shows up unusually in the major mediant - was simplicity personified. Room Lewis allowed as well for sobering, brief simple hint of regret for turn to the minor at end of the Exposition and thunderous roar for moments of stark dissonance, as for instance several seconds into the coda.

Bravura flair for the third movement rondo, pardoning very brief sign of fatigue, was complete - given so much that Paul Lewis effectively delivered here. It hardly detracted at all, even momentarily. Light scintillated through opening statement of the rondo, as though to open out through panoply of clouds, much but not all of this through subtle pedaling again - not to mention the gorgeous pedaling of slow descent of octaves off craggy-engaged rocky A Minor interlude. Furious rustle through C minor middle section Lewis made linger right near the surface, wisely so, instead of conventionally above - with ring resounding through right hand octaves guiding music away from this uprising preceding them.

Intimated continuing first theme development through following retransition was most telling, opening to the Recapitulation, furious bravura to follow restrained; restatement for coda was both airy and full of song - with sense persisting through simple interior sculpting of sidebar into minor mode - of darkness not having yet dissipated. Ear captivating illusion of vocally achieved glissandi framed much opening out into trill anticipated simply achieved flourish to close all out.

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