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Recordings from Paul Lewis are always to be relished due to their unfussy virtuosity, insightful interpretations and intriguing programming. On this latest disc, Schubert’s gentle Ninth Sonata – one of seven composed in 1817 – is heard alongside Weber’s near-contemporaneous Second Sonata, which gets top billing.

The two works are different in atmosphere and structure, not just size. Weber’s is perhaps the most introverted of his four Opus 39 sonatas, sometimes averred to be the first truly Romantic sonata sequence. There is a Beethovenian scale to the opening Allegro moderato, yet even in the quiet initial bars one can hear Weber opening up new expressive vistas – ones that would lead in time through Schubert and Hummel to Chopin, Schumann and Brahms. Lewis is fully attuned to the music’s sense of the spectacle of the new, especially in the ebb and flow of the opening Allegro, with its stormier episodes. His handling of the Andante’s mercurial variations and ensuing Menuetto capriccioso – definitely a scherzo, irrespective of the composer’s title – is no less adept, and the final Rondo is beguiling, paced to perfection.

Following on from this tour de force, the Schubert is a touch underwhelming. No fault of the performance, which is as involving and finger-perfect as one expects from Lewis. Rather it is the work itself, most particularly the Allegro giusto finale, the dominating subject of which has a distinctive rocking-horse motion that leads the movement nowhere. The earlier movements, Allegro ma non troppo, Andante and the Scherzo allegretto are more successful, and Lewis shapes the whole sonata beautifully. Harmonia Mundi’s sound is first-rate.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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