The composer Franz Schubert died at the tragically early age of 31 from a disease which today could have been easily cured. At his death he had already written many masterpieces and it is tempting to speculate on what else he might have composed had he survived. What he probably wouldn’t have given us, though, were the three great piano sonatas – his last – that made up Paul Lewis’s recital for the Malvern Concert Club.

Writing these towering works in the shadow of the death of his idol Beethoven, and now in the knowledge that he himself was mortally ill, Schubert gave the conventional structures of the mainstream classico-romantic piano sonata an intensely personal slant, both formally and emotionally. One particular aspect that sets them apart is their improvisatory character and this is the attribute Paul Lewis captured particularly well. So focussed was his playing that one almost felt he could have been Schubert himself sitting at the keyboard at an intimate Schubertiade – a soirée of friends, albeit in this case six-hundred strong – as he expressed his thoughts through the myriad twists and turns that could be wrested from his material.

Where some pianists might have harangued their audiences with displays of pianistic rhetoric, Paul Lewis’s playing was meditative, drawing us into Schubert’s world and revealing its nuances. Sometimes he would tip us a wry wink, perhaps by startling us with a declamatory outburst, a sudden silence or an unexpected harmonic shift; at other times he would tug at our emotions with a line of sublime melody or a flurry of dextrous arabesques. His pianissimos were exquisite and demanding of rapt attention, while the power of his fortissimos and the impact of his sforzandi were always in keeping with the dramatic context.

Throughout the recital Lewis served his master with elegant phrasing and a use of rubato that was always subtle and never interrupted the music’s essential pulse. This was focussed music making of the highest class, made all the more telling by the enhancement to understanding provided by Joseph Brand’s exemplary programme notes. Outside the Forum Theatre there was snow on the ground and the wind was arctic, yet inside the audience was so engrossed that nary a cough was to be heard. And that probably says it all.