Paul Lewis in Australia: Beethoven Recital

Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.2/1
Piano Sonata quasi una fantasia in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
Piano Sonata in A, Op.2/2
Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)

Paul Lewis (piano)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 5 September, 2006
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

This all-Beethoven recital was the last in Paul Lewis’s first solo tour of Australia (he previously visited with the Leopold String Trio in 2003). At present Lewis is steeped in Beethoven, the second volume of his complete Beethoven sonatas having just been released on Harmonia Mundi.

Lewis framed his recital with the two F minor works. The one from Opus 2, so classical in outline and yet with that stormy Presto finale, received a curiously lugubrious reading from Lewis, as though he wanted to link this work with the later, more Romantic music of Beethoven’s middle and late periods. The tempos were leisurely and there was generous use of rubato; the pedal was liberally applied and the phrasing emphatic . To be sure, this was still beautiful playing – I just wasn’t convinced by the gravitas.

The ‘Moonlight’ sonata, however, wasn’t found wanting in any department: this was a masterly performance, recalling the restrained eloquence of Lewis’s mentor Alfred Brendel. The Adagio sostenuto was transparent, spectral; the lilting Allegretto ironic in its arch insouciance; the galloping Presto agitato crisp and exciting.

Following the interval, Lewis recommenced his recital with the second sonata from the Opus 2 set. Perhaps it was this work’s unrelenting optimism, or merely the fact that it is in a major key, but here Lewis’s reading was what you would have expected had he been playing Haydn – all was light and sparkle save the darker-hued Largo appassionato. Then again, perhaps Lewis was trying to provide maximum contrast with the following ‘Appassionata’.

If so, he succeeded, with the dramatic rhetoric of the Allegro assai wrenching the audience from its reverie; this was a “Sturm und Drang” swirl whose only respite was the central movement with its D flat major Theme and Variations. Lewis’s Allegro ma non troppo was a masterpiece of theatre, the final Presto section utterly explosive and yet utterly lacking in vulgar display.

A single encore, Schubert’s Allegretto in C minor (D915), brought the evening to a close and brought the temperature back down.

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