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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in G major, Op. 31, No 1 (1801-2) [24:39]
Sonata in d minor, Op. 31, No. 2 "Tempest" (1801-2) [24:31]
Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3 (1802) [24:24]
Paul Lewis, piano
rec. April 2005, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901902 [73:55]
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Detractors of the glut of available recordings of the Beethoven sonatas might immediately cry: "Do we need yet another Beethoven cycle?!" The answer is, in my humble opinion, that if it is played by one Mr. Paul Lewis of England, most certainly yes.

As a boy, when I aspired to be a concert pianist - an aspiration that has long ago fallen by the wayside - I would listen for hours on end to the likes of Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein. How I admired their powerful tone, their utter command of the piano and the depth of thought which went into their interpretations. I would then spend more hours futilely attempting to make my Baldwin upright sound as grand and compelling as their recorded Steinways. With the passing of giants like the aforementioned, I came to believe that we would never again hear a pianist who could do more than just execute the notes in the correct order and rhythm, and at that, faster and louder than the guy before.

Imagine then my excitement when I donned my headphones and sat back to listen to Paul Lewis interpret the three Op. 31 sonatas of Beethoven. Composed during a period of great upheaval in Beethovenís personal life, these works come from the period that ultimately led him to write the Heiligenstadt Testament. It was a time of despair and uncertainty for the composer whose ever-increasing deafness brought him very near to self destruction. This anguish is only partially reflected in the music however. Perhaps one can read trepidation into the halting rhythms of the Op. 31/1 allegro, or even anger and rage into the stormy opening of Op. 31/2. But these emotional outbursts are all answered by the utmost serenity and melodic poetry in the inner movements.

What is remarkable about these performances is Mr. Lewisís utter control and poise as he plays. There are no histrionics, no "look what I can dos," no extraneous noises to detract from the music itself. Rather, Lewis plays with superb command of his instrument, reflecting the complicated and turmoil ridden life that was Beethovenís.

Lewis is also possessed of the ability to make the richest and truly gorgeous tones come from the piano. Even when the music calls for some thunder, Lewis produces the grand, mountain top variety, never falling into the kinds of vulgar displays that seem all too frequent these days. Mr. Lewisí virtuosity is expressed more in what he does not do than in what he does. He is perfectly at ease with letting the music speak for itself, sharing with us listeners what he finds to be the inner heart and soul of the composer. I think that it can be safely said that Paul Lewis does not merely interpret these works; he lives them out, practically recreating these tried and true works in a manner that makes them completely new, invigorating and exciting.

This is one of the most remarkable recordings that I have heard in years. Paul Lewis is a talent for posterity, a pianist of such refinement that he is certain to make a mark in the world that will long outlast his time on the planet. If this recording is any indication, and I believe that it is, we have found our next icon. Viva!

Kevin Sutton



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