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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 31, No 1 (1801-2) [24:39]
Piano Sonata in d minor, Op. 31, No. 2 Tempest (1801-2) [24:31]
Piano 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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Paul Lewis is a star on the rise and is one of the finest pianists Iíve ever had the privilege to hear live. He has received coaching from Alfred Brendel but fortunately, to my ears, he doesnít 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 Iíve 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 Beethovenís 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 Shakespeareís 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 scherzo.

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 Beethovenís 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 canít wait!

David R Dunsmore

see also review by Kevin Sutton January Recording of the Month


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