Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas / Paul Lewis
Ludwig van Beethoven
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
An epic Beethoven journey begins and this strong start promises well
Paul Lewis launches his cycle of the 32 Beethoven sonatas with a triptych of richly varied middle-period masterpieces. A more auspicious start would be hard to imagine. True, others may characterise the first and third sonatas more playfully or show themselves more obviously attuned to Beethoven’s scintillating wit and whimsy, but Lewis’s unalloyed musicianship and overall mastery are worth their weight in gold; every bar declares his calibre and generosity of spirit.
Sometimes his warmth and flexibility suggest Beethoven seen, as it were, through Schubert’s eyes (the
finale to Op 31 No 1) and he often suggests a darker, more serious side to the composer’s laughter and high jinks. But he plays Beethoven’s humorous afterthought at the close of the Op 31 No 1’s Allegro vivace as to the manner born and his presto coda to the finale becomes a joyous chase.
His way with the so-called Tempest Sonata is a reminder, too, of his outwardly relaxed mastery, quite without a sign of a skewed or telescoped phrase and with page after page given with a quiet but superbly focused intensity. His Adagio is gravely processional, his finale (that agitated, teasingly enigmatic moto perpetuo) acutely yet subtly and unobtrusively characterised. Again, while others may offer a swifter trajectory through No 3’s finale, Lewis’s wish to give substance to every note carries its own unswerving conviction.
Harmonia Mundi’s sound is excellent and I can scarcely wait to hear the rest of this deeply serious and sensitive young pianist’s epic undertaking.
-- Bryce Morrison, GRAMOPHONE (review of Volume 1)
Mastery and eloquence: this is shaping up to be a great Beethoven cycle
Paul Lewis’s three-disc second volume of his Beethoven sonata cycle is of such eloquence and mastery (the one inseparable from the other) that it deserves a book rather than a review. Throughout all 10 sonatas his unswerving authority thinly veils his profound immersion in the very wellspring of Beethoven’s creative genius. Even the composer’s relatively carefree or lightweight gestures (the finales of Opp 14 No 2, 78 and 79) are invested with a drama and significance that illuminate them in a novel but wholly natural light. Here is one of those rare pianists who can charge even a single note or momentary pause with drama and significance and convince you, for example, that his lyrical, often darkly introspective way with Beethoven’s pulsing con brio brilliance in the Waldstein Sonata is a viable, indeed, memorable alternative to convention.
So, too, is his way with the Hammerklavier, that most daunting of masterpieces, where he tells us that even when the composer is at his most elemental he remains deeply human and vulnerable. Not for him Schnabel’s headlong attempt to obey Beethoven’s wild first-movement metronome mark; nor does he view the vast spans of the Adagio as “like the icy heart of some remote mountain lake” (JWN Sullivan) but rather a place of ineffable sadness. And here as elsewhere he is able to relish every detail of the composer’s ever-expanding argument while maintaining a flawless sense of line and continuity.
Faced with such excellence a mere critic can only abandon paper and pencil and listen to this heroic but deeply moving young artist with awe and amazement. These are early days but Paul Lewis’s superbly recorded and presented Beethoven may well turn out to be the most musicianly and ultimately satisfying of all recorded Beethoven piano sonata cycles.
-- Bryce Morrison, GRAMOPHONE (review of Volume 2)
Round three, and Paul Lewis's eloquent and persuasive cycle still enthrals
Paul Lewis’s third and penultimate volume of his Beethoven sonata cycle once more shows him playing down all possible roughness and angularity in favour of a richly humane and predominantly lyrical beauty. And if, like Vladimir Ashkenazy, he believes that today we are music’s servants rather than its masters, I can only say that he is both master and servant. Again, here is nothing of that glossy, impersonal sheen beloved of too many young pianists, but a subtly nuanced perception beneath an immaculate surface.
His technique, honed on many ultra-demanding areas of the repertoire (how well I remember his unfaltering mastery in Balakirev’s Islamey sadly bypassed by my jury colleagues at an international competition several years ago) allows him an imaginative and poetic latitude only given to a musical elite. Telescoped phrasing, rapid scrambles for security, waywardness and pedantry (the hallmarks of many celebrated recordings of the sonatas) he gladly leaves to others, firmly but gently guiding you to the very heart of the composer. His Appassionata is characterised by muted gunfire, as if the sonata’s warlike elements were heard from a distance. Yet the lucidity with which he views such violence easily makes others’ more rampant virtuosity become sound and fury, signifying little. His way, too, with the teasing toccata-like finales of Opp 26 and 54 is typical of his lyrical restraint, a far cry, indeed, from a more overt brilliance. How superbly he captures Beethoven’s over-the-shoulder glance at Haydn, his great predecessor, yet gives you all of his forward-looking Romanticism in the early F minor Sonata. Again, how many pianists could achieve such unfaltering poise and sensitivity in Op 7’s Largo, con gran espressione?
These performances are a transparent act of musical love and devotion. Nothing is exaggerated yet virtually everything is included. Of all the modern versions of the sonatas (and there are many either complete or in progress), Lewis’s is surely the most eloquent and persuasive. And, as in previous issues, Harmonia Mundi’s sound is of demonstration quality, making you eagerly await the final issue, duenext spring.
-- Bryce Morrison, GRAMOPHONE (review of Volume 3)
GRAMOPHONE RECORD OF THE YEAR 2008!
Schnabel, Kempff, Brendel are great but Lewis gives you the best of all worlds
Every one of Paul Lewis’s now-complete Beethoven Sonatas series has been selected as an Editor’s Choice. Deservedly so – and this final instalment boasts all the virtues of its predecessors – a pianist nimble of mind and fingers, penetrating interpretations delivered with just the right lightness of touch and bold imaginative leaps that can leave the listener staggered.
-- GRAMOPHONE (review of Volume 4)
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Sonata no 7: I. Presto
Piano Sonata no 15 "Pastoral": II. Andante
Piano Sonata no 18: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata no 31: I. Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
A never ending treasure December 24, 2013
By C. Bryner (Price, UT) See All My Reviews
"Superb sound quality. Each number is beautifully crafted by Lewis. I get the sense he wants the music to be about Beethoven, not himself."
Paul Lewis's Beethoven June 1, 2012
By Professor Robert Dixon (Sydney, NSW) See All My Reviews
"I have played and listened to the Beethoven sonatas for over forty years and know them best through the mono recordings of Wilhelm Kempff, and Daniel Barenboim's from the early 1960s. I find Paul Lewis' new recordings to be revelatory, even against these great benchmarks. It is all to do with his technique. He has the capacity to express the architecture of each sonata while also attending to phrasing and bringing out the sung-through lines against the background detail. Above all it is his touch which allows us to hear the pieces fully as if for the first time. And despite these elements of technique, the playing is modest and unmannered in the best sense. The recordings are also rich and exceptionally realistic. Professor Robert Dixon FAHA University of Sydney"