Beethoven, Piano Sonatas, vol. 2 (op. 106, inter alia), Paul Lewis
(released on January 16, 2007)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901903.05
Beethoven, Piano Sonatas, vol. 4 (op. 10, inter alia), Paul Lewis
(released on May 13, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901909.11
Beethoven, Op. 10, no. 1 | Op. 10, no. 2 | Op. 10, no. 3 | Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier")
The fecundity of Lewis's ideas for the early and middle sonatas provide admirable variety of musical approaches and continue to prompt me to reconsider long-held ideas about how the Beethoven sonatas should sound. Perhaps they should not always be played so savagely, and perhaps all those forceful dynamic markings do not need to be realized hyperbolically. The leggiero flourishes in the slow movement of op. 10/1 are so lacy, and even the loudest fortissimo chords do not seem to overwhelm the instrument, making the comic contrasts of the rondo of op. 10/3 more witty than manic. Lewis does tend to exaggerate the slower movements, like a somewhat lugubrious Allegretto second movement in op. 10/2 and a glacial Largo e mesto second movement of op. 10/3 (more static than sad).
Where Lewis's cycle has less success is in the late sonatas, especially the daunting op. 106, the große Sonate intended, as the subtitle says, "für das Hammerklavier," referring to the instrument not by its potential for playing loud and soft (pianoforte) but for the violent nature of its sound-producing action. The piece is booby-trapped with technical pitfalls, especially extensive inner-voice trills and intricate contrapuntal structures displaced far over the keyboard, requiring finger dexterity and intellectual acumen more than the brute strength that the subtitle might seem to imply, although there are plenty of large chords spread over ninths and tenths, too. Lewis loses some of his accustomed grace, mastering the work's demands but without the fluency and facility heard in the earlier sonatas. Some pianists can make up for that sense of desperation with bombast and dramatic flair, but that does not seem to be Lewis's style.