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Paul Lewis, St George’s Oct 2

October 5, 2009

Another brilliant solo recital from Lewis after last season’s Schubert fest, again overcoming doubts about the appeal of going to hear someone work through stuff which will be basically the same as it has been thousands of times before. It is worth doing when it it can be done with as much flair and attention to detail as this.

The main event was the Diabelli variations, which I admit tries the patience a little. It is the greatest piece in the piano repertoire, apparently (Alfred Brendel via Wikipedia). Not sure about that. Lewis brought out its intermittent playfulness, and elements of parody. But parts of it sounds somewhat like parody Beethoven. Was he having a laugh at listeners’ expense? Something about working up 33 variations invites that suspicion. All terribly brilliant, I’m sure, but just slightly hard to take seriously. The inherent seriousness of the recital room – reinforced by the vaguely religious ambience of a deconsecrated space – makes one wish for something a little more irrreverent. Singing along with the simple bits, perhaps? Throwing in a few more variations in more modern styles to carry on the enterprise? Maybe a job for Uri Caine.

The opening Shubert impromptus were fab though. Didn’t know them before, loved them, and want to know them better. The third and fourth of the set were particularly fine, and the piano rang out in the space of St George’s as if the pieces were newly minted. Music which lasts – historically and for each new listener.

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