Although Carl Maria von Weber’s piano sonatas continue to resist coming back into fashion, they somehow manage to find world-class champions on disc. Sonata No. 2 in A-flat has been especially well served, going back to splendid 78-era recordings by Alfred Cortot and Noël Mewton-Wood, with excellent versions from Emil Gilels and Alfred Brendel closer to our time. Brendel’s erstwhile protégée Paul Lewis now enters the arena.
He brings sensitivity and a flair for nuance in the first movement’s quieter passages, yet the descending cross-rhythmic runs are heavy and earthbound. Lewis’ third-movement Presto assai finds every note and every accent in absolute place, yet the teasing fortissimos and the dolce staccatos don’t convey that sense of surprise and giddy lilt that you hear from Dino Ciani’s classic DG recording. The Andante, however, brings forth Lewis’ finest work, and he pays more consistent attention to the left-hand triplet staccato markings than most.
Lewis follows Brendel’s lead in the Schubert B major sonata’s opening Allegro ma non troppo in regard to his scrupulous to the point of unyielding dotted rhythms and giving voice to the piano writing’s contrapuntal moments: the poetic Uchida and dramatic Richter (either 1966 Aldeburgh or 1979 Japan) versions, however, are still my favorites. Lewis truly sings out the slow movement (one of Schubert’s greatest) while tellingly underlining the harmonic sublimities. In contrast to Uchida’s mincing deliberation, Lewis plays the Scherzo at a real Allegretto, feeling the music in a lilting “one” rather than emphasizing all three beats of the measure equally. Yet the pianist’s held-back and rigidly-phrased finale seems a far cry from Schubert’s Allegro giusto request, certainly compared with how Richter takes supple and uplifting wing. Harmonia Mundi’s full-bodied and vividly detailed engineering accounts for Lewis’ every move, each dynamic adjustment, each attack, release, and pedal effect.