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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MUSIC HATH CHARMS, 24 April 2004
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This review is from: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Variations Diabelli (Audio CD)
However they are in very short supply in Beethoven’s Diabelli variations.A more craggy, flinty, uningratiating masterpiece can rarely have beencalled into existence.
Throughout my lifetime it has been associated with Rudolf Serkin more thanwith any other player to my knowledge. I have lived with his version formore years than I can now recall, and with an other by Brendel – an earlyproduction of his, not a million miles distant from Serkin’s in itsconcept of the work, before he formed his own more distinctive style, andI suspect quite possibly Serkin-influenced. I have never yet heard anaccount of the piece that quite equals Serkin’s. The formidable technicaldemands are the common property of today’s piano players. Preference asbetween this or that virtuoso’s handling of this or that particularvariation is likely to be an issue of the personal temperament of everyindividual listener. Even in the matter of controlling the work's overallstructure and the handling of the contrasts between the variations,Serkin’s characteristic alternations between rocketing velocity and hushedawestruck mystery, while unsurpassed and never likely to be surpassed, arenot entirely unique. What marks out Serkin’s Beethoven at its greatest isa quality that I can best call prophetic. He brings to Beethoven apeculiar sense of tension and electricity, largely but not entirelyexplicable by a special rhythmic instinct that was his own and nobodyelse’s. What is it that distinguishes Serkin’s playing of the rumblingleft-hand sequences in the second variation from Brendel’s? Nothing thatis easy to pinpoint, but something that is not easy to mistake either. Onelearns to spot his special way with Beethoven’s characteristic trick ofdropping the volume on the first beat of a bar, where he has the knack ofmaking a minute hesitation to let the resonance of the preceding noteclear without seeming to, but for every such identifiable technique thereare several that I do not expect ever to rationalise. There is somethingabout his special tone-quality as well that makes him the naturalinterpreter of such a piece as this. It is not everyone’s idea of‘beautiful’, not even mine, but it is never ugly or forced either, henever goes through his tone even in the most shattering fortissimo, andthe whole effect is weighty without being heavy.
I would not be without his Bagatelles op 119 either. These curious littlemasterpieces represent one particularly characteristic side of Beethoven,volatile, quirky and unpredictable. Here we are not short of choices. Myown other version is by Kovacevich in one of his earlier incarnations asStephen Bishop. If my choice were to be determined by these in particular,it would be a hard one. Serkin’s playing is ‘cleaner’, with less pedal,Bishop’s warmer and more gemuetlich even in the threatening Scarbo-likesequences. There’s not much in it for me. More than anything else mypreference depends on the mood I’m in.
American readers of this notice are advised that two Sony discs of theseperformances are circulating in Europe, and the one I strongly recommendis numbered 5128662 because it contains a neglected masterpiece, the Gminor fantasia op 77. I have never seen the score of this, and I wouldlike to know whether the variation-theme is really in a 4+3 7-beat, whichis how it sounds to me. Never having heard anyone else play the piece Ican recommend Serkin as unlikely to meet his match in it. He captures itsmoodiness to perfection, his unique sense of timing makes the stops andstarts a delight to hear, the variation with the left-hand octaves is aterrific piece of Also Sprach Serkin, and the variation-theme and firstvariation are exquisite, which shows he can do that kind of thing too.Really exalted Beethoven-playing.
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Location: Glossop Derbyshire England

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