I heard the young
English pianist Paul Lewis play an all-Beethoven recital
years ago and it was one of those concerts that live
in the memory. Next year he is returning to Australia
to play the Beethoven Concerto No. 2 with the Sydney
Symphony, and I will be there.
This final volume in
the traversal of the pinnacle of piano sonatas won the
2008 Gramophone Magazine Record of the Year: a richly
deserved award, though I don’t feel that it is any more
outstanding than its three predecessors. Perhaps the
judges thought along the same lines as the Oscar judges
in giving the final Lord of the Rings
Best Movie Oscar: this is for the whole set.
I don’t intend in going
into detail about the ten works that comprise this set:
apart from anything else, it would become repetitive.
There is only so many times that superlatives can be
used before they lose their impact.
Instead, I will give
you a series of adjectives that I believe characterise
the Beethoven of Paul Lewis: poetic, personal, non-idiosyncratic,
assured, thoughtful, controlled, graceful, flowing, passionate.
Lest you think that it might be too “nice” or smooth
for Beethoven, let me assure that there is power and
strength when needed, but not for its own sake. These
performances are about the music, not about the pianist.
Pick your favourite,
listen to your favourite recording of it, and then listen
to Paul Lewis – I’m positive that you will be impressed.
I downloaded this recording
(and the others in the series) in mp3 format from emusic,
so I can’t really comment on the sound quality in absolute
terms. However, I believe that the quality on CD would
be very good, as there is nothing to complain about in
the compressed format. Downloading also means I am short
on recording details and can’t comment on what is apparently
a fine essay in the booklet.
Volume 1 of this series
has received two very complimentary reviews on Musicweb – from Kevin
(a January 2006 Recording of the Month) and David
– but the next volumes, featuring the very
famous sonatas, seemed to have been missed. I can assure
you that they are equally outstanding – this is truly
a Beethoven cycle for the ages.
David J Barker
Paul Lewis has written
an article for The Guardian newspaper available online
about his Beethoven project.