BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31, No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 – Paul Lewis, piano – Harmonia mundi

by | Nov 7, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN:  Piano Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31, No. 1; Piano
Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat
Major, Op. 31, No. 3
– Paul Lewis, piano – Harmonia mundi HMC 901902,  73:55 ****:

The three sonatas of 1805, Op. 31, remain a group of strikingly
contrasting works, ranging from the playful humor of the G Major
Sonata, to the harmonic and emotional explorations of the D Minor
Sonata, to the security of classical style of the E-flat Sonata. The G
Major Sonata, perhaps the most neglected of the set, reveals an
introspective side to Beethoven’s earthy humor, with its tensions
between the tonic key and B Major, The use of asymmetrical
accents  and highly florid melodic lines owes something to Italian
opera buffa. The high register repeats, then followed by Beethoven’s
mocking of the trill device in the Adagio grazioso hint at a private,
bemused world we might not hear again until Debussy. The so-called
“Tempest” D Minor Sonata  first made an indelible impression on me
through Erno von Dohnanyi”s recording for Remington Records. The
neurotic elements seem to scatter whatever impulses there are to a
clear identity. The Adagio can become quite despairing, and we recall
that Beethoven had faced his ongoing deafness with the somber
realization that his public career would soon end and only his
compositions “justified” his existence. The E-flat Sonata, in a key
that Beethoven would often embrace as a sign of personal valor,
hearkens at several points back to the happier mood of the Op. 20
Septet.  Not without melancholy, the piece eventually moves to a
happy resolve in the last two movements – even relishing its fate, Amor
fati, in the lively tarantella finale.

British pianist Paul Lewis, a protégé of Alfred Brendel, plays the
Steinway most graciously, with a particularly light and elegant hand,
achieving in many otherwise percussive passages a velvet touch and
music-box sonority. A Schubert specialist, Lewis perhaps brings a
naturally lyric ethos to the more explosive Beethoven, whose music
benefits from the clean unforced realization of his often knotty
interior lines. In several respects, Lewis reminds me of American
Richard Goode’s way with Beethoven, in being no less articulate,
intelligent, and dexterously suave. Recorded April 2005 at the
acoustically warm Teldex Studio in Berlin, the three sonatas enjoy a
freshness and sonic immediacy that does not become percussive at the
extreme ends of the keyboard. The entire musical patina is quite soft,
so Lewis finds the intimacy that is more the salon’s wont than the
concert hall.  Engaging and lovely Beethoven, if you like your
Beethoven thoughtful rather than blustery.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews