About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Mr. Lewis Attempts Brahms

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
04/10/2014 -  & April 11, 12, 2014
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Opus 15
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Opus 61

Paul Lewis (Pianist)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (Conductor)

P. Lewis (© Paullewispiano.co.uk)

Perhaps it was unfair to attend a performance of the Brahms First Concerto with the vibrations of Misuko Uchida’s Diabelli Variations from Wednesday still ringing in my ears. Such a transcendent performance does not die out with the final C Major chord. The resonances continued all the way to Avery Fisher Hall, where Paul Lewis was playing the Brahms Concerto.

Yet I tried to keep an open mind, for the previous time I had heard the British pianist perform here, he played a hefty program of three Schubert sonatas. As a student of Alfred Brendel, Mr. Lewis obviously had the feel for the composer, the muscular technique and the understanding, even the shadow of his mentor’s magic.

Brahms, though, was a different matter. In fact, Mr. Lewis had confessed that he wouldn’t take a chance with a Brahms concerto unless he had the right conductor and the right orchestra. For him, Christoph von Dohnányi was the right leader. And while the pianist is more associated in America with the Boston and Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Phil would be the foundation for the performance.

How I wish that the 41-year-old Liverpudlian’s bucket-list of accompaniment had been fulfilled. But in the first movement of the First Concerto, the orchestra seemed rather clunky. No mistakes, but the conductor never offered that activity, that energy which might have inspired Mr. Lewis. Nowhere were piano and orchestra out of sync or out of rhythmic balance, but soloist and orchestra never seemed to energize each other. Mr. Lewis started his own work with a rigor that contrasted with the warmth of the orchestra. Granted, it is difficult to extract warmth from the thickness of the second-theme piano textures, but even here, the “chemistry” which Mr. Lewis needed from the NY Phil was lacking.

The Adagio changed things considerably, mainly since Mr. Lewis had most of this to himself. His touch was clear, the legatos were smooth, the adagio worked its power. I still felt something unresolved in the playing. Perhaps this is because the best of players gives an illusionary improvisatory feeling in the wide-ranging melody, and perhaps Mr. Lewis, in this first performance, was too careful.

He was equally careful in the finale Rondo, but nobody could complain. Brahms’ inspirations were boundless, and anybody who rushes through misses the point. As a soloist, Mr. Lewis had no problems with the two cadenzas. The coalescence between Messrs Lewis and Dohnányi were on the mark, and the piece finished with the usual triumph.

C. von Dohnányi (© New York Philharmonic)

Maestro Dohnányi had no problems with the Schumann Second Symphony, a work he must have conducted innumerable times. I hadn’t realized until reading the program notes that, not only did Schumann experience his first inklings of is coming insanity, but that he wrote much of it in a house adjacent to an insane asylum.

The poor man. Yet nothing doleful was heard here. Mr. Dohnányi, after the brooding start, played with all the lyricism of the young composer, eschewing the heaviness. The scherzo danced (...er, reservedly danced, but the effort was apparent) giving way to a warm and exultant last movement.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com