Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 31/1, 2, 3

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harminia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Op. 31/1, 2, 3
PERFORMER: Paul Lewis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HM 901902
Beethoven’s three Op. 31 sonatas, composed on the brink of his middle period, show him reinventing his creative persona with each successive work, and any pianist tackling them needs to capture a remarkably wide variety of mood and character. Paul Lewis makes a very good showing. A one-time pupil of Brendel, his former teacher’s influence perhaps shows in such touches as the increased urgency at the point where the second subject of the opening work turns from major to minor; or the gentle and gracious account of the same Sonata’s Allegretto finale, quite beautifully performed. Not that Lewis’s interpretations are in any sense derivative: they are well-considered and personal accounts, and the so-called Tempest Sonata (Op. 31 No. 2) in particular is superbly done without a hint of superficial agitation. Only Brendel conveys the galloping motion of its finale more vividly within a genuine Allegretto tempo.

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Other pianists – notably Richard Goode (Nonesuch) – have squeezed more humour out of the opening movement of Op. 31 No. 1, but the warmth and lyricism Lewis finds in the piece shed new light on it. Only in his rather sedate view of the last Sonata’s tarantella-style finale do I part company with him – and with Brendel, for that matter. Beethoven wanted it played as a ‘fiery’ presto, and both Goode and Stephen Kovacevich (Philips) are much nearer the mark.

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In the end, perhaps Brendel provides the most satisfying all-round view of the sonata triptych; but Lewis’s very well recorded disc offers much food for thought. Misha Donat