Bagatelles, Opp 33, 119 & 126; Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59 ‘Für Elise’; Klavierstück in B flat major, WoO 60; in B minor, WoO 61; in G minor, WoO61a; Fantasia in G minor, Op. 77
Paul Lewis (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902416 69:41 mins
It’s remarkable how much Beethoven we don’t, or only rarely hear. Think of all the Beethoven you listen to, and then remember that his opus numbers reach the late 130s. Certainly some is best forgotten, but this disc serves to remind us how much marvellous music Beethoven wrote where there isn’t a scowl in sight. The 32 piano sonatas are recorded and performed endlessly, while the Bagatelles, which are mainly what Paul Lewis plays on this superlative new disc, rarely get an outing, with the exception of two of Op. 126, which crop up quite often as encores, and really are ecstatic music belonging to the same world as the scherzos in some of the late sonatas and string quartets.
Yet as this disc shows, there are three bunches of bagatelles; and if the Op. 126 ones are the greatest, which they are, the other two sets, one from early in his career and one from quite late, are all gems often showing Beethoven in a puckish, improvisatory mood, thinking what he can do next to surprise us.
Besides these sets of miniature masterpieces, the disc includes several works of less interest, the longest of which – over ten minutes – is the Fantasy Op. 77, a jumble of not very interesting ideas.
Throughout, Paul Lewis plays with the most natural, relaxed but concentrated enjoyment, instantly communicated to the happy listener. A delightful disc altogether, warmly recommended.