Paul Lewis / Steven Osborne, Wigmore Hall, London


There’s something symbolic of friendship in the interplay of two pairs of hands on one instrument, and never more than in Schubert’s four-hand music.

He wrote his first such piece at thirteen, and spent much of his final year - while dying of typhoid, brought on by syphilis - producing an extraordinary series of four-hand masterpieces. These works were integral to his life: he was not a virtuoso like his hero Beethoven, and playing them with friends, in intimate gatherings, brought him more happiness.

Some of those friends were female pupils: one of his most inspired duets, the ‘Variations on an Original Theme in A flat’, was ostensibly written for the countesses Marie and Caroline Esterhazy, but with this piece Schubert probably nudged Marie aside to accompany her younger sister, whom he loved. And it was to Caroline that he dedicated the great ‘Fantasie in F minor’, which still towers above all other works in the four-hand repertoire.

Its practicalities are tricky. Schubert may not require hand-crossing gymnastics, but his players must maintain a subtle balance of tonal contrasts, with textures which are constantly in flux. The goal is not, as with Brahms’s four-hand works, two players melding as one, but a marriage in which two musical personalities retain their individuality. So one wondered exactly how Steven Osborne - best known for his Rachmaninov and Messiaen - would blend with Paul Lewis, Britain’s leading young Beethovenist, in this birthday tribute to Schubert.

After the massive call-to-attention chord which opens the ‘Lebenssturme’ - ‘Storms of Life’ - Allegro, the pair launched into a brilliant synthesis, with Osborne’ filigree tracery weaving delicate patterns above Lewis’s powerful bass; in this performance the piece emerged as unusually fine-grained, while losing none of the requisite hurtling force.

The theme of the ‘Variations in B minor’, which followed, was wonderfully bleak and wistful, with its progressive embellishments seeming to emerge almost spontaneously, thanks to the rubato freedom each player allowed himself. If the ‘Fugue in E minor’ came across as a derivative curiosity - as a contrapuntalist, Schubert had absolutely nothing to add to Bach - the ‘Rondo in A’ had lovely grace.

After the interval the players switched positions, with fascinating results. Listening blind, as they played the ‘Fantasie in F minor’, you’d have said it was two other musicians. But the effect was no less magnificent than before.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected