Paul Lewis delivered the best classical performance of this autumn season at Saffron Hall on Sunday, October 13.

Photo: Molina VisualsPhoto: Molina Visuals

Despite there being just him and the piano on the stage, Lewis managed to impress as a music virtuoso, achieving a perfect balance between impeccable technique and delicate nuances.

It's true that a beautiful Steinway & Sons grand piano provided by the hall, amazing venue acoustics and a lazy Sunday afternoon might have helped a bit with Paul Lewis wordlessly contouring the portrait of a complete pianist.

The afternoon started with Haydn's Piano Sonata in E minor Hob XVI:34, which he managed to perform as the overlap between harpsichord and fortepiano it is meant to be based on classical music history.

The first movement, Presto, gave a powerful introductory statement through the staccato done by the left hand.

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Beautiful crescendos followed throughout, as did repetitive themes with variations. Although 'Adagio' is meant to mean, in its literal sense, 'slow', the pianist managed to perform this second part with rhythmic freedom, given by counterpoints and phrasing dominated by tempo rubato.

The pianissimos and pianississimos seemed to slow the adventurous attempts to speed the tempo through the calming effect of delicate sound. Paul carried the delicate approach into the third part, Vivace molto: innocentemente, where his fingers were dancing on the piano in a playful manner.

The middle performance saw Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 by Brahms, which was paradoxically written during a summer in Austria, despite creating a passionate, slow-burning December nostalgia, reminding me of the majesty of Austrian winter landscapes.

The second, B flat minor intermezzo and the C-sharp minor one were both dramatic, through the deepest octave notes exquisitely played during the former and a less melodic approach during the latter, where the climax of dramatism was infused with unexpectedness.

As the evening approached, Ludwig van Beethoven's 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, resounded in the full venue which seemed to hold their breaths at Paul's ability to make the variations flow into one another without hesitation.

Beethoven's typical musical expression was highlighted through playful fortes, brief breaks and octaves jumps.

This musical choice is arguably better placed in the middle of a concert instead of the end, as it is a challenge for the audience to keep engaged at a level which does the variations' details justice. However, this did not prevent the audience from giving Paul three big rounds of applause - sadly, with no encore in response.