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 Beethoven’s 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. Lewis’s
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 Beethoven’s.
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. Lewis’ 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
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.