Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lewis' Beethoven sonatas

On the piano, like it or not, Glenn Gould is still a force with which to be reckoned. However, he - and this is the mark of a real, bona fide, genius - knew he had limits. Ludwig van Beethoven's piano sonata in B flat major, his 29th such sonata and the 106th item in his catalog, was one such limit consciously for Gould. In the Sony "Glenn Gould Edition" release of his Hammerklavier, the liner notes reprint a letter from Gould, fretting about the sonata and his difficulties with it. Paul Lewis, whose Harmonia Mundi integrale of Beethoven's piano sonatas is ongoing, does not seem to have the same difficulties.

I have been soaking in volume two of Lewis' sonatas for most of the weekend (i.e., today). My aural sorbet, a day of Beethoven's sonatas would be more, even, than I could bear, Scott Ross' best-of from his Scarlatti sonata integrale. It's been interesting. Lewis has a way, maybe not the only way, but a way, with the sonatas. His style is something of a mystery to me, since I am not as well-versed in Beethoven's sonatas (aside from the Hammerklavier) as I am in other composers' works. There is, though, an obvious technical mastery at work in all of Lewis' sonatas. He's sure of himself: that is to say that he is not playing in a certain way because received opinion says he should, or (far worse) because Gilels, Pollini, Gould, or whoever played it that way. In other words, he hits all the notes, and the complicated issues (like dynamics, phrasing, lyricism, and the like) are sorted out in such a way that makes him seem - if not obviously right - at least sure that he is indeed right.

I said I am not as conversant with Beethoven's piano sonatas (in fact, truth be told, I'm probably better-versed in Boulez' piano sonatas) as others' works, but I still know good music-making when I hear it. Beethoven revolutionized every field of instrumental music to which he devoted serious attention, and his piano sonatas are - so I'm told - the New Testament of keyboard music. I might agree, but I think we're giving György Ligeti short shrift with that. Still, this (vol. 2) is a damned good record and worth the spin.