Paul Lewis is a star
on the rise and is one of the finest
pianists I’ve ever had the privilege
to hear live. He has received coaching
from Alfred Brendel but fortunately,
to my ears, he doesn’t have any of the
Brendel mannerisms to detract from his
undoubted ability. Paul Lewis has now
started a Beethoven sonata cycle and
I recently purchased this first disc
with enthusiasm. Playing it has been
one of the most enjoyable listening
experiences I’ve had over the past year.
This is Volume One and he has chosen
to start midway through the "32"
with the three sonatas of Op. 31.
Number 16 has
an impish quality and it was hearing
this on BBC "In Tune" that
alerted me to Paul Lewis in these familiar
works. Quite simply I was blown away
and loved every note. I felt I must
get the CD at the first opportunity
despite having well over ten versions
of the pieces! This work may have been
adjacent to Beethoven’s depression but
it is music of an astonishingly talented
young man. The slow movement
is a melodious serenade and only shows
the darker side in the closing bars.
There is a feeling of emerging confidence
and this is highly appropriate for Paul
Lewis as well. The final movement is
lovely and shows development from those
early Op. 2s from the 1790s. It also
looks forward to the great works ahead.
The most well known
piece here is The Tempest which
was influenced by Shakespeare’s play.
After the joy present in the last work
we have a stormy opening movement. There
is a feeling of agitation which personifies
the composer who was going through the
appalling realization that he could
no longer hear clearly. The playing
is just marvellous; I felt totally drawn
into this struggle. The slow movement
hints at a funeral march with a painfully
wistful beauty intimating what might
be lost. It is sobering to think that
at the age Beethoven was trying to cope
with deafness, Schubert had been dead
a year. Apparently the finale was inspired
by a galloping horse as well as Ariel
and Caliban. Throughout Lewis is nonpareil,
comparisons are meaningless and I feel
privileged to hear this wonderful music
brought to life with fun still poking
its nose through in the mischievous
Number 18 was
written after the anguish and despair
of 1802. There is a melancholic ambience
throughout but the prevailing atmosphere
is of a genius at work. The scherzo
has an impish quality which I find very
endearing. The slow movement is a minuet
but great sadness is present. For me
this one of Beethoven’s supreme moments
and I found it almost unbearably moving.
The last movement is a showpiece which
Wilhelm Kempff played memorably. Lewis
is right up with this maestro and brings
this fantastic disc to a fitting finale.
This is a marvellous
CD and is recommended to all even if
your shelves strain with Beethoven.
Volume 2 beckons; I can’t wait!
David R Dunsmore
see also review
by Kevin Sutton January Recording
of the Month