Paul Lewis has only recorded one Mozart disc, the two Piano Quartets with the great Leopold Trio (Isabelle van Keulen, Lawrence Power and Kate Gould). Based on his concert with The Hallé, he should do more. In performances of key Mozart repertoire that offer unique challenges to the performers (though few to the listeners), Lewis showed a precise velvet touch and an engaging familiarity with stylistic considerations as in "improvised" bridge passages and delightful, modest expansions of Mozart's cadenzas, adding ornaments when they were least expected and sparingly. He played lightly on the contrasts within his own parts and in his dialogues with the other musicians, and there was something gently contemplative about his playing on a thoroughly modern instrument, as if he was in awe at the miracle of what Mozart had done with a simple fortepiano.

Paul Lewis and The Hallé
© The Hallé

In his charming introduction to Mozart's Quintet in E flat for piano and winds, Lewis spoke about how much less confrontational the relationship is between the piano and the other instruments than in the piano quartets, and about Mozart's exploration of instrumental colors and proceeded to show the composer similarly exploring deeply personal feelings and emotions with those colors. From the first key bars it was clear that the balance between the piano and the winds had been beautifully judged and that the matching of phrasing and narratives would be collaborative. The winds played with a jewel-like glow and alert, affectionate, articulation that complemented Lewis's soft-grained piano.

In the two outer movements, Lewis' performance of the "little" A major Piano Concerto, K414 had all the sweep and majesty of the "big" A major K488 written four years later, with its bar-spanning, sweeping legato runs and brilliant virtuoso flourishes supported so sympathetically by Hallé's warm strings, punctuated occasionally by the horns and winds. The Andante started out ambling before losing itself in fantasy. In the Allegretto Lewis occasionally suggested the sound world of the fortepiano and refreshingly avoided becoming too epigrammatic about its skeletal thematic material. His playing was always about movement without haste.

The Hallé
© The Hallé

The Icelandic violinist Eva Þorarinsdottir, filling in on short notice for the previously-announced Henning Kraggerud, and working with players only one of whom had played the music before, led a performance from the podium of Stravinsky's Concerto in D with a joyful mien and positive downbeats that resulted in a happy performance of the type of irresistibly eventful music that Vivaldi, or so Stravinsky thought, wrote 500 times and which Stravinsky managed to write only once.

This performance was reviewed from The Hallé's video stream