The British pianist’s two-year Schubert world tour is giving him new insights into the composer.

In February 2011 you began a mammoth two-year world tour devoted to the piano music of Schubert. Do you find it draining to live with a single composer for so long?
To spend two years with Schubert is a privilege really, just an indulgence. I never get tired of it. There’s always something new to see, the more time I spend with the music. And in every different part of the world I go to, audiences react differently, and I learn things about the music from the way they listen.

You’ve recorded and toured all the Beethoven sonatas, which were much admired by Schubert. Do you approach the two composers differently?
Beethoven had this need to resolve problems and to triumph. But Schubert never seems to have this requirement; you end up with more unanswered questions than you started with. He’s more elusive and has very multi-layered messages, which are fascinating but also very difficult to convey. 

What is so appealing to you about Schubert’s late piano music in particular?
The scale is one thing; the fact that he can spin over 40 minutes in some of the late pieces. There’s something that changes when he got the diagnosis of syphilis – a new depth, a darkness from which you can’t escape.

Do you have a favourite Schubert piece?
I have a very soft spot for the G Major Sonata. The first movement journeys from warmth and intimacy into horror and terror and anguish; it’s all there. That for me is essentially Schubertian. You can’t have the smiles without the tears.

What keeps you coming back to Australia so regularly?
I just adore Australia; it’s one of my favourite places to come. It’s a long way but it’s worth every mile of the journey. There’s an energy and enthusiasm from the audience that’s so important for a performer. And the Melbourne Recital Centre is a gem of a hall.

Paul Lewis plays Schubert at the Melbourne Recital Centre September 6, and the Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House September 9.