The English pianist Paul Lewis continues to stamp his considerable imprimatur on some of the world’s best-loved repertoire with another impeccable release through the Harmonia Mundi label.
The Liverpool docker’s son from a non-musical family turns now from late Schubert and Mussorgsky to Brahms for his latest foray, combining the mighty Piano Concerto No 1 with a lovely reading of the Four Ballades, Op. 10.
The Concerto started out as a double piano sonata, but then Brahms realised that was too limiting so he considered it for a symphony. Lacking confidence in his orchestral writing, however – and with the “footsteps of Beethoven” always behind him – he put that aside until, he confided to Clara Schumann, the idea of making it into a concerto came to him in a dream. It didn’t materialise for a year or so and because he obsessively destroyed material that didn’t meet his perfectionist standards, it’s impossible to know how much of the original concept remains.
The premiere in Hanover was successful but at Leipzig it was hissed. “I am plainly experimenting and still groping,” the poor 23-year-old Brahms wrote to his friend and confidant Joseph Joachim. It was only after a Berlin...