A select group of musicians provided a modest programme of chamber music at St George’s alongside renowned pianist, Paul Lewis. Both the music of Beethoven and Schubert have been close to Lewis' heart as he has been slowly working his way through their core piano works in depth. A few years ago, Lewis became the first pianist to perform a complete Beethoven concerto cycle in a single BBC Proms season.

Paul Lewis © Ingpen Williams
Paul Lewis
© Ingpen Williams

Violinist Lisa Batiashvilli was sadly unwell and was replaced last minute by Russian violinist, Alexander Sitkovetsky, whose playing style was neither as bold nor as confident. Of the two pieces he performed, Beethoven's String Trio in C minor Op.9 no. 3 that opened the evening was the least confident. Timing was slightly awry, particularly in the faster third movement, Scherzo: Allegro molto e vivace’, where the performers held back a little from their maximum potential. Despite being a less romantic performance of the piece, it was not this that gave the performance its reserved nature; it was more a hesitancy. This was not the case for the Schubert Piano Quintet in A D667 “The Trout”, which was rich, entertaining and full of musical details executed well by the musicians. Sitkovetsky came alive in this final piece, demonstrating flair for fast passages and controlled dynamics.

There were a few cases of ‘violinist’s sniff’ emanating from the string players throughout the performance, which was particularly more noticeable in the String Trio, perhaps due to the delicate instrumentation of the piece. The Adagio and Andante movements throughout the concert seemed to fall prey to a pre-phrase inhalation, which was eliminated after the interval for the Schubert's “Trout” Quintet.

Commissioned by an amateur musician, Sylvester Paumgartner, the Quintet gets its fishy nickname from the song Die Forelle (The Trout) which Paumgartner loved. Various motifs from this lied can be heard throughout the five-movement work which also has unusual instrumentation: a double bass instead of second violin, as was the case with Hummel's Quintet, which was Paumgartner's inspiration. As the last musician to enter on stage in the concert, Austrian bassist Alois Posch was placed in between the viola and cellist on the stage. His performance stood out and had a particular ease to his playing. Posch projected the sound of his instrument well without playing over the other performers. His style was unforced and effortless, whilst portraying the humour of the lighthearted music.

Paul Lewis and his wife, Norwegian cellist Bjørg Lewis, played the Beethoven Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major Op.102 no. 1 as the middle piece of the evening. The performance was bare and simplistic, stripped back of romanticism, but it was lacking an additional something, which placed itself in the third movement as a fundamental connection between the performers. They were too immersed in their own music and as a result, they were not engaged enough on stage in combining the separate parts as a whole. Paul Lewis’ playing style involved a lot of dynamic facial expressions, whilst keeping true to the slightly restrained style of Beethoven’s composition. He kept his fingers fairly high and arched as he played, giving a traditional and technical sound. Yet he still recognised the emotion in the music and helped the audience to identify with it. Bjørg Lewis played in a contrasting style, her performance creating a romantic flair with more vibrato and rubato than in the first Trio, defining the cello's lyrical voice. Despite the lack of connection between the instrumentalists, there was still a conversational feel and this worked well with their different playing styles.