Even the great and the good of the keyboard have their work cut out keeping up with Beethoven. Paul Lewis is good, very good, but the level-headedness of his playing in the first half of this recital - part of his ongoing cycle of Beethoven sonatas at this hall - meant that the sudden mood-swings that so define this composer's volatile nature assumed an inevitability that somehow blunted their force.
It was as if the beast in Beethoven had been tranquillised. Lewis, for all his accomplishment and tonal beauty, was the voice of reason that Beethoven never heard. The method, not the madness, ruled.
In the Sonata in F Op 54 the juxtaposition of opposing ideas, one a graceful minuet, the other a fist-brandishing toccata, felt like an exercise in contrast - too abstract, too detached. Similarly, the Sonata in E-flat Op 27 No 1 "Quasi una fantasia" felt too grounded. Something in the atmosphere must change with the arrival of the luminous second subject in pure C major, just as surely as the floated, muted, opening of the so-called "Moonlight" Sonata must scent eternity. So, too, the sudden, irrational explosiveness that repeatedly brings us down to earth must not feel tactical but rather a force of nature. These aspects of Beethoven the visionary eluded Lewis in the concert's first half.
But then the magic descended, and all the things one had heard about Lewis that make him such a special prospect emerged in the Sonata in E-flat Op 7. Not only was he playing differently; the audience was listening differently. I can pinpoint the precise moment he turned that corner; it came in the storming first movement, as Lewis bore down on one of Beethoven's ground-shaking modulations. Suddenly the music took possession of him, not the other way round.
From that moment, it was onwards and upwards. The serene slow movement was traced out in beautifully weighted sound. He and us were transported to an altogether loftier place. And if the definition of a special performance is that which contains moments you don't easily forget, then Lewis provided one with his breathtaking "dissolve" into the radiant home stretch - one of Beethoven's fleetingly reassuring sunsets.Reuse content