Paul LewisThe Sheldonian Theatre13 OctoberPaul Lewis has won much praise from critics for his CDs of the sonatas of Schubert, and rose to prominence as a performer at this year’s Last Night of the Proms. He now turns his attention to Beethoven’s thirty two piano sonatas, which he is recording for Harmonia Mundi and performing in their entirety in London, Edinburgh and Oxford. He inaugurated the Oxford cycle at the Sheldonian Theatre, and this will be followed by a further seven concerts in the next two years.He chose to begin with the three sonatas from Op.31, and the sonata Op.78. The Op.31 sonatas were designed as a contrasting set: the comedic G major and graceful E flat major sonatas surround the dark D minor sonata, sometimes called The Tempest, after Beethoven told his secretary, asking about the meaning of the work, to “just read Shakespeare’s The Tempest”. These were coupled with the Op.78 sonata, sometimes referred to as À Thérèse, a pupil of Beethoven’s, who could possibly have been his Immortal Beloved.From the outset of the G major sonata, Lewis’ style of Beethoven playing was made apparent. His range of dynamic contrast is extreme, fitting the sometimes exaggerated gestures of these works, and he emphasises the humour of Beethoven’s work with absolute clarity of fingerwork and phrasing. I have never heard a pianist highlight the ‘false ending’ of the first movement of this sonata with such wit, causing chuckles of amusement in the audience. The following Adagio grazioso in which a simple melody becomes progressively more over-ornamented was nonchalantly delivered despite the score’s ever-increasing demands. The rondo was given a charming finish, as the ending cadences, which become successively less confident, drew further laughter from listeners.The Tempest sonata then demonstrated the ‘minor-key’ side of Beethoven’s music. Lewis underlined the contrast between the two first movement themes, with the Adagio sections drawn out to near-stasis, sustained through skilful pedalling, while the frenetic Allegro was intensely driven. Following the balm of the slow movement, the final Allegretto, a sinister moto perpetuo, led ominously towards the depths of the keyboard for the inconclusive closing bars. After the interval, the brief Op.78 sonata was elegantly delivered, particularly the second movement, where the rapid passages of alternating notes between the hands were cleanly executed throughout. This sonata served as a prelude to the final sonata from Op.31. The fortissimo outbursts of the energetic Scherzo caused several people to be visibly jolted in their seats, perhaps as was Beethoven’s intention. The gentle Menuetto led into the last movement,a boisterous tarantella which built up to its close with an inexorable accumulation of momentum, ending the concert in grand style. Taking the peformance as a whole, Paul Lewis’ performance gave the impression of impulsiveness under great control, and a feeling of freshnessthat many performances of these sonatas lack. His next concert will be on the Friday 9 December, and it is something to look forward to with the utmost anticipation.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005