Paul Lewis – LIMF, New Walk Museum June 2016

As a taster, below is a review of the final LIMF concert of the Summer, part of an unpublished article covering two concerts.

The 2015/16 LIMF season at the Museum came to a conclusion with perhaps the most outstanding concert of the series. Before it started, it was announced that Peter Baker was stepping down as Chair of the Festival Board. The audience was thus reminded how the musical riches enjoyed by Leicester don’t just happen. They are dependant on hours of unpaid labour by devotees and no-one in the last decade has had more of an impact on the city’s music scene than Peter Baker.

Hence, it was fitting that the last concert of his tenure should have been a recital so fine that only a string of superlatives seems appropriate to describe it. Before Peter’s time, a young pianist appeared in Leicester at the Festival and gave a performance of Schubert’s last Sonata which still resonates in my memory. His name was Paul Lewis and it was obvious then that he was a major talent. Now he is recognised internationally as one of the greats amongst present day pianists and this recital showed exactly why.

This time he started with a rarely played early Schubert sonata. With a wonderful touch and many minute inflections he established that the composer’s quintessential voice was already very much present in the work. Then it was on to Brahms, The Ballades Op. 10 and the Intermezzi Op. 117. Here Lewis throughout made the piano sing even in textures which can emerge in lesser hands as stodge. This was Brahms at his most radiantly lyrical.

And as if this was not enough, we then had a performance of Liszt’s Dante Sonata which was simply breathtaking. Virtuoso pianists abound today but in this music only a few seem to get beyond display of technique. However, this pianist managed as the cascade of notes flew by to create a depth of thunderous black tone which painted an unforgettable picture of Dante’s Inferno. Never in my experience has Hell seemed more awesome nor Liszt such a great composer. My young grandson sat throughout with his mouth wide open and a lady behind me, I am told, was bouncing up and down as if at a rock concert. Liszt, accustomed as he was to ladies swooning as he played, would have been very pleased by that. Unforgettable!