Paul Lewis is one of our most popular and regular visitors to Turner Sims. Read on for his insight into the programme he brings to us on Thursday 4 February and to venues across the UK including St Georges in Bristol.
Brahms Four Ballades, Op 10
Schubert Sonata in B, D575
Brahms Three Intermezzi, Op 117
Liszt Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata
The Schubert is definitely of the rare, untroubled type, although it’s more experimental than much of his other earlier music in terms of structure, layout and surprises. Some of it sounds Haydnesque in the way he pokes fun at the listener. The Brahms Op 10 Ballades are also early, experimental pieces but, unlike the Schubert, are dark in character. The first is based on a Scottish Ballade, Edward. He returns home with his sword dropping with blood, his mother asks why. He tells her he killed his father and curses her for it, so fairly disturbing subject matter… The others continue in a similar vein, with some openly virtuosic piano writing, the last one being particularly submerged and introspective in character.
Op 117 shows the more mature, settled Brahms, the master of his craft. The first of these is also based on a Scottish Ballade, and the content is as anguished as in Op 10, but we hear him express these ideas from the point of view of a much older man. The rawness and experimentation is gone, there’s no pianistic excess, mostly introspection.
Liszt’s Dante sonata is one of the great peaks of the 19th C piano repertoire, combining elements of sonata, fantasy, and tone poem. Its searing depiction of hell, beginning with a tritone call for the spirits of the damned to rise, use of piano colour, thrilling virtuosity and expressive beauty, make the Dante sonata one of the most vivid and exciting works in the repertoire to listen to. In my view, it stands alongside the B minor sonata as one of Liszt’s greatest achievements – more condensed in structure, but equally masterful. It brings the recital from the relatively carefree world of early Schubert, via the darker world of Brahms, to an intense, blazing conclusion.