Paul Lewis is known for his distinguished traversals of the Beethoven and Schubert Sonatas. He can do no wrong as far as British critics are concerned. One review of this disc described Lewis and Haydn as “a perfect fit”. Respectfully, I beg to differ. The sole quality in Lewis’s Beethoven that was lacking for me was playfulness. It is an element even more essential to Haydn, but Lewis strikes me as no more playful this time around. He was mentored by Alfred Brendel, but if you compare the two in the B Minor Sonata (Hob. XVI:32), Brendel uses a lighter touch, evoking an air of tongue-in-cheek, even in a minor key. Lewis’s pianism is smooth, but he remains very serious about it.
That is not to say Lewis is rhythmically slack. He moves the pace along briskly in the first movement of the Sonata in E Flat (Hob. XVI:49), but when he gets to the section where everything stops while a motif is thrown back and forth between registers, the result sounds more like Beethoven than Haydn. Lewis’s low wit quotient is reinforced by a slightly bass-heavy piano sound and Harmonia Mundi’s reverberant acoustic robs any secco playing of crispness.
Not unexpectedly, Lewis is strong in the slow movements – delicate in the Adagio of the Sonata in C (Hob. XVI:50), and capturing the courtliness of the Allegretto movement of the Sonata in G (Hob. XVI:40). There is poised, thoughtful pianism here, but for a Classical sensibility I would look to Brendel, Hamelin or Bavouzet.