Pianist Paul Lewis Performs Beethoven and Schubert

by Michael Parloff, Artistic Director, Parlance Chamber Concerts

This Sunday afternoon, January 19 at 3 PM, Parlance Chamber Concerts will present the celebrated English pianist Paul Lewis in a recital of Fantasy Sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert. Internationally regarded as one of the most poetic artists of his generation, Paul Lewis has received unanimous acclaim for his deeply insightful performances of the core piano repertoire. Sunday’s recital will include Beethoven’s cherished “Moonlight” Sonata and Schubert’s sublime Sonata in G, D. 894, which Robert Schumann called “Schubert’s most perfect sonata in form and conception.”

About Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis appears regularly as soloist with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the New York, Berlin, and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Boston, Chicago, and London Symphonies, the Cleveland Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, and Leipzig Gewandhaus. As a recitalist, he is heard in all of the world’s major halls, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, and the Berlin Philharmonie.

Lewis’s many award-winning recordings have consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the central European musical canon. His wide-ranging discography for Harmonia Mundi includes the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, concertos, the Diabelli Variations, and all of Schubert’s major piano works from the last six years of his life. Paul Lewis’s numerous awards have included the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year, two Edison awards, and three Gramophone awards.

About the Program

Beethoven performing in
Prince Carl Lichnowsky’s Salon

Beethoven’s reputation as a fiery virtuoso propelled him to fame soon after his arrival in Vienna in his early twenties. The young pianist-composer also became renowned as the city’s foremost improviser during a era when musicians would often extemporize publicly, sometimes even engaging in improvisational competitions with their musical rivals. Contemporary accounts offer tantalizing descriptions of Beethoven’s spontaneous displays of virtuosity.

Carl Czerny (1791 – 1857)

His celebrated student Carl Czerny later recalled, “Beethoven’s improvisations were most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into loud sobs; for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them.

The Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77, heard second on Sunday’s program, will offer a taste of what Beethoven’s unbridled flights of fantasy may have actually sounded like. With its unpredictable succession of rushing scales, rocketing arpeggios, rapidly alternating moods, and capricious changes of key, the Fantasy affords a vivid a sonic image of Beethoven in an improvisational rapture.

Flanking the G-minor Fantasy will be two of Beethoven’s most pioneering sonatas: Op. 27, No. 1 in E-flat major and Op. 27, No. 2 in C# minor.

Beethoven’s Op. 27, No. 1
Title Page of the First Edition

Beethoven appended the phrase “Quasi una fantasia” — “in the manner of an improvisation” — to both pieces, revealing his intention to meld the formal constraints of the classical sonata with the unbounded freedom of the musical fantasia. The beguiling Sonata in E-flat major is completely unique in its form. Beethoven intentionally blurs the boundaries between the four movements as each flows seamlessly into the next. True to its “fantastic” nature, the sonata’s character fluctuates radically, ranging from the intimate lullabies and lusty peasant dances of the first movement to the nocturnal spookiness of the second. Hymn-like contemplation characterizes the short third movement, which elides into to the Dionysian vitality of the spirited finale.

Franz Schubert in 1825
by Wilhelm August Rieder

Beethoven’s famous Sonata in C# minor, posthumously entitled the “Moonlight,” begins with the hypnotically undulating triplets that make it the most instantly recognizable of all his solo piano works. Unlike its sister sonata, each movement is completely self-contained and atmospherically consistent. The dreamlike revery of the first movement, with hints of funereal menace lurking just beneath the surface, is succeeded by a surprisingly placid minuet and trio that Franz Liszt called “a flower between two chasms.” The compressed energy of the first movement is fully unleashed in the turbulent finale, Beethoven’s full-throttle expression of musical ferocity.

After intermission, the storminess of middle-period Beethoven will resolve into the serenity of late-period Schubert. Schubert called D. 894 a sonata, but his publisher, Tobias Haslinger, chose to offer it to the public as a “Fantasie, Andante, Minuetto and Allegretto.”

Schubert Sonata in G, D. 894, op. 78
First edition title page

Liszt later referred to the work simply as a “fantasy,” while the emotionally extravagant Schumann proclaimed it a “Virgilian poem!” Whatever one chooses to call Schubert’s “Fantasy Sonata” in G, it is a luminous outpouring of expansive, songlike melody, rustic country dances, and gentle pastoral excursions to the alpine expanses of Schubert’s soul. Like Beethoven’s two Op. 27 sonatas, Schubert’s great work blends the formal logic of a classical sonata with the visionary freedom of a fantasia.

Don’t miss Sunday’s afternoon’s literally fantastic concert!

Artistic Director Michael Parloff will introduce the program and performer. Complete program and ticket information for Sunday afternoon’s concert can be found at ParlanceChamberConcerts.org.

The performance will take place this Sunday, January 19, from 3:00 PM to approximately 5:00 PM..

The event will take place at West Side Presbyterian Church, 6 South Monroe Street, Ridgewood. Free parking. Tickets at the door: Adults $40; Seniors (65+): $30; Young Adults (21 – 39): $20; Students (under 21): $10

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