Pianist Paul Lewis travels Franz Schubert's emotional journey
One thing Paul Lewis won’t have to worry about during his next visit to Vancouver is the piano. Not only did the British pianist familiarize himself with the Vancouver Recital Society’s resident Steinway during his last visit here, he’d earlier been responsible for choosing it from six candidates at the legendary keyboard manufacturer’s Hamburg showroom.
“When you select a piano I suppose you have your personal preferences, but in general what you look for is a well-balanced instrument,” he recalls, speaking to the Straight from his London home. “I suppose you’re looking for a sound that has openness, that has colour and character. I remember that particular selection. There were two pianos that we came down to in the end: there was this one, and there was another one that was much bigger and brighter, that had a more direct sound. And I went for this one, because it’s not going to be used as a concerto piano. It’s going to be used for recitals and chamber music, and the ability to be more intimate, somehow, was what we decided to go for. If we were going to put it in the Orpheum, for instance, it would have been the other one, but for the VRS, this was the right choice.”
VRS artistic director Leila Getz’s trust in Lewis’s ability to pick a piano is no doubt due to the string of impeccable recitals he’s given for her organization. And judging by his enthusiasm for the music he’ll be performing next week, local listeners are in for another treat. On the program are Franz Schubert’s last great works for solo keyboard, the piano sonatas in C minor, A major, and B-flat minor, which Lewis says make for a complex and satisfying evening.
As is his wont, Lewis has spent a lot of time researching the three scores, familiarizing himself with their structural complexity as well as trying to understand how they relate to Schubert’s personal history and psychological makeup. The pieces were written in the last few months of the composer’s life, and Lewis sees them as an emotional journey from fear to acceptance.
“It just occurred to me recently that these three pieces somehow represent the past, the present, and the future,” he says of the informal trilogy, which Schubert began not long after receiving the news that he had incurable syphilis. “In the C minor, you feel that there’s a sense of looking back to a more anguished and terror-stricken time. I mean, it’s quite a dark work, the C-minor sonata.
“There’s a sense with the A major that you’re in the present, and that you’re trying to come to terms with things, trying to reconcile yourself with whatever you’re trying to deal with,” he continues. There’s a sense, in that piece, at the end of it, of letting go of something for the last time. And then the B flat—that for me is a piece that looks to the future, looks in a different direction. If you like, it’s kind of the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Audience and musician alike should emerge from the concert hall with a feeling of having shared an emotional journey, Lewis adds—even if, for the performer, it’s a journey with no final destination.
“There’s never a point of arrival with Schubert’s music,” he says happily. “You’ve never done it; there’s always something else to do.”
Paul Lewis plays the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Tuesday (October 23).