English pianist Paul Lewis has already recorded for Harmonia Mundi an acclaimed cycle of the Beethoven sonatas, and now turns his attention to the complete piano concertos. Here are all five, housed in a handsome three-disc cardboard digipak. Even if you have individual recordings of these concertos, this set is a tremendous way to survey them all.
Lewis’s performance partner is Jirí Belohlávek, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Belohlávek is more usually heard conducting opera, but that is no liability. In fact, the dramatic sense he brings to these works is part of what makes these recordings so effective.
There is nothing in the booklet notes to state whether these are live performances or not. They are made in conjunction with BBC Radio 3, which suggests they were the next best thing – especially recorded for broadcast, with the same zest and spontaneity of a live concert recording.
Paul Lewis is an assured pianist in this repertoire, growing in authority through the cycle until its apotheosis in the grand Fifth, Beethoven’s “symphony for piano and orchestra”. The acoustics are really quite extraordinary – strong and sonorous, with piano and orchestra truly at one. This is about the finest-sounding recording of these works I’ve heard, and the artistry is as good as any in the catalogue.
This is Beethoven as I imagine he heard himself in his imagination, after he went deaf. It’s a larger-than-life reading of works by a colossus.