Reflections on a Significant Recital

Paul Lewis, piano – 24th September 2020, 3pm and 7pm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Piano sonata no.11 in A, K.331

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Piano sonata no.18 in G, D.894

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Fantasia in G minor Op. 77 (encore)

Prelude

From its foundation by Edward Elgar in 1903, Malvern Concert Club had provided an unbroken series of chamber concerts in the town, which even two World Wars failed to disturb. When the Committee put together its plans for 2020, none could have foreseen that, due to injury, severe weather and a pandemic, the first concert of the year would be on 24th September.

As the number of Covid-19 cases appeared to abate, the Committee asked a sample of the membership what their intentions might be. There was a sufficiently positive response to allow us to plan for the first concert in the Club’s 118th season. With the support and cooperation of Paul Lewis and the team at Malvern Theatres, two separate recitals were devised, both shorter than originally planned, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, We were thus able to accommodate over 170 people, and make arrangements for the use and tuning of Hereford Cider Museum’s Steinway piano.

The thunderous hailstorm which preceded the afternoon recital had thankfully subsided before we joined the orderly queue to enter Malvern Theatres. Clear signage and the welcome presence of the stewards directed us to our seats where the sheet with Joseph Brand’s excellent programme notes awaited us. Due to the allocation and posting of tickets by Malvern Theatres, the usual gravitation of the audience towards the keyboard side of the Forum, normally the case for a piano recital, was absent.

Our Chairman John Gregory welcomed the audience and confirmed that :

  1. The Club is very secure financially. In addition, many of our members generously supported the Club and its artists by forgoing refunds when the end of the 117th season was cancelled.
  2. If it is viable to put on a concert, we will do so – even if attendance has to be limited, and we have to plan concert by concert, making changes as we go.
  3. We know of, and so much appreciate, your loyalty as members. And we do understand why some are not able, or do not feel they should, attend today. Indeed, some Committee members are in this position. We hope to stream our next concert so that people can enjoy it at home.

Performance

The lights were dimmed and the familiar attentive silence for which artists have often praised Malvern Concert Club audiences fell on the auditorium. Paul Lewis’s arrival at the piano was greeted with enthusiastic applause. Then the music began, in a major key, Mozart’s Piano sonata no.11 in A K. 331 (Rondo alla Turca), planned for the evening performance, and a departure from the Haydn Sonata in C Minor Hob XVI:20 in our programmes. While a little surprising, the serenity of the theme and Paul Lewis’s subtle and brilliant playing of the variations of the first movement felt entirely appropriate to the occasion and were a very welcome indication of the return of live chamber music of the highest quality to Malvern.

The audience was treated to over an hour of exquisitely conveyed music, and it was particularly in the quieter passages, for instance the slow movement of the Schubert G major sonata, as the final note melted into the auditorium, that I fully appreciated what we had been missing over the months of silence in our beloved venue. Paul Lewis also clearly communicated the ability of both Mozart and Schubert to provide engagement, solace and consolation in challenging times like these. A recital by Paul Lewis has always been keenly anticipated by our audiences, and I am sure my husband and I were not alone in finding the concert a moving experience. Several passages have remained with us long after the music had ceased.

We had hoped for an encore, and were delighted to hear Beethoven’s Fantasia Op.77 which is reputed to have been included as an improvisation, in his benefit concert of 22nd December 1808. This four hour concert had also included, the 5th and 6th symphonies, the 4th piano concerto, excerpts from his Mass in C, a concert aria, ‘Ah Perfido’ and the Choral Fantasia, a prototype for the final movement of the 9th Symphony. The impression was of passages of quixotic brilliance, virtuosity and drama, interspersed with infinite variety including hints of operatic recitative and aria, as well as glimpses of sublime expression, concluded by a fine set of variations. This was all perfectly conveyed by Paul Lewis in less than ten minutes, reminding us yet again of what wonders can be achieved by a single pianist in a sympathetic venue.

The audience, while small in numbers, made up for this with their enthusiastic applause after each work, and at the conclusion of the recital. The compliments received both on the day, and afterwards have been equally positive.

Postlude

One of the popular features of a Malvern Concert Club recital is our table in the auditorium for the sale of Artist’s CDs. Understandably, this has not been possible under the current conditions, but here are details of recordings by Paul Lewis of two of the three works played on 24th September.

Franz Schubert Piano sonata no.18 in G, D.894 is on the two disc set Franz Schubert 1797-1828, Piano Sonatas D.840, 850 & 894, Impromptus D.899 / Klavierstücke D.946, which was Gramophone Magazine’s recording of the month in November 2011.

Harmonia Mundi HMC902115.16, 2 hours 37 minutes: available at https://www.harmoniamundi.com/#!/albums/1728

Ludwig van Beethoven Fantasia in G minor Op. 77 is on the newly released CD Beethoven, Bagatelles, Opp 33, 119 & 126; Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59 ‘Für Elise’; Klavierstück in B flat major, WoO 60; in B minor, WoO 61; in G minor, WoO61a; Fantasia in G minor, Op. 77 which received a very favourable review in this September’s edition of Gramophone Magazine.

Harmonia Mundi HMM902416 69:41 minutes: available at https://www.harmoniamundi.com/#!/albums/2627
(c) Janet Hay, September 2020

Share