Beethoven ¥ Beethoven

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Naïve (Guy); Harmonia Mundi (Lewis)
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49/1; No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier); Piano Sonatas: Opp 13, 14, 22, 53, 78, 79, 90, 101 & 106
PERFORMER: Françoise-Frédéric Guy (piano); Paul Lewis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: V 5023; HMC 901903-05
Paul Lewis’s Beethoven cycle got off to a start last year with a single disc containing the three sonatas Op.31. This second instalment comes on three CDs, and ranges widely – from the small-scale pair Op.14, completed in 1799, to the vast Hammerklavier composed two decades later. Paul Lewis is a serious artist, and the quality of his playing, beautifully captured by Harmonia Mundi’s engineers, is of a very high standard throughout. Particularly fine is the Waldstein Sonata – its opening movement slightly less impulsive than it sometimes is, but Lewis’s steady tempo prevents the rapid semiquaver figuration from sounding garbled, and allows the chorale-like second subject due expressive weight. The slow introduction to the finale has an admirable sense of hushed mystery, while the rondo itself benefits greatly from Lewis’s luminous pianissimo sound. Altogether, this is a performance that can stand comparison with the very best.

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No less successful are Lewis’s lyrical and intimate accounts of the E major Sonata Op.14 No.1, the E minor Op.90 and the F sharp major Op.78. His Hammerklavier is tremendously impressive, leaving us in no doubt of the music’s weight and grandeur. Nor is he afraid to ‘orchestrate’ Beethoven’s sonority with the occasional added lower octave in the left hand. This is certainly a set to which I shall return often.

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For François-Frédéric Guy, the Hammerklavier has become something of an obsession. It is, he says, the centre of gravity around which his entire repertoire revolves. His is another cogent performance, a touch more urgent than Lewis in the outer movements, and just as deeply felt in the great Adagio. However, neither pianist can quite match Solomon in this work. His 1952 recording has tremendous an energy and momentum; and the wonderful slow movement carries an infinite sense of world-weariness. For the remaining works here Richard Goode is a warmly recommendable alternative.Misha Donat