"Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4," Paul Lewis, pianist (Harmonia Mundi France)

English pianist Paul Lewis released the first volume of his complete survey of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in 2005. Over the next two years he toured Europe and the United States, performing cycles of the sonatas and recording them for Harmonia Mundi France.

The fourth and final volume in the series has now been released, and Lewis' work is as insightful and engrossing as ever. There are many prized recordings of the Beethoven sonatas from past masters and current artists. But if I had to recommend a single complete set, I would suggest Lewis' distinguished recordings.

Although Lewis, 36, has a resourceful technique, he does not come across as a brilliant virtuoso. His playing is honest and beautifully detailed, with impressive clarity and no compromises. Yet it is his imagination that carries these performances. At times he is self-effacing and sensitive. But when prodded by something in the music, he can be volatile and fearsome.

Here his performances of three early works, the Sonatas No. 5 in C minor, No. 6 in F and No. 7 in D (published together as Opus 10), are particularly exciting. In the stormy first movement of the C minor, with its clipped, dotted-note rhythmic riff and stunning contrasts, Lewis plays with such boldness and fancy that it almost sounds as if he were improvising.

Similarly, in the otherworldly Sonata No. 32 in C minor, he charges through the fitful first movement with a wildness that never turns reckless. Yet in his haunting account of the finale, he conveys the music's pensive mysticism while animating the outbursts of rhythmically jerky exuberance.