The free concert series at the Library of Congress, long focused on chamber music, does not include many piano recitals. The venue’s new piano, debuted in 2011, may change that trend, and Saturday afternoon’s recital by Paul Lewis set an excellent example. The English pianist, who has been steadily putting together a fine recorded set of Schubert’s piano sonatas for Harmonia Mundi, played two of the composer’s late sonatas, remarkable for their power, expressive range and multitude of crunchy sonic details.
Lewis gave the C minor sonata (D. 958) all of its force and flair right from the opening of the first movement, reveling in the work’s active figuration, giving it a kinetic energy. His singing touch had more than enough power to vault the melody over all the movement, which is often played in a more understated way, the drama capped off by a moody coda. His take on the second movement was far more delicate, with soft echoes of many phrases in the first section, but also a thundering passage of left-hand octaves. The Menuetto was fast and dancing, with a blithe trio for contrast, followed by a strong, leaping finale, complete with acrobatic hand-crossings.
The A major sonata (D. 959) is perhaps suited to a more transparent kind of performance, but Lewis made an argument for a less diaphanous interpretation, with much of the same strength he brought to the preceding work. Here his rubato was more pronounced, slowing down the first movement’s second theme, a distortion that made the second and third movements a little over-mannered at times. Lewis hit just the right tempo, however, in the fourth movement, not too fast, with a particularly delicious singing tone when the melody went into the left hand.
Downey is a freelance writer.