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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

15 May 2012
4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 15 May 2012
  • Release Date: 7 May 2012
  • Label: harmonia mundi
  • Copyright: harmonia mundi France
  • Total Length: 1:07:12
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B00B9J8E54
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,666 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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This is a fascinating recording for several reasons. Firstly, Staier has recorded a selection of Diabelli variations by composers other than Beethoven. There are some interesting pieces in this selection and some of them sound very close to Beethoven. This is due not only to starting with the same theme but also that Beethoven's set was published in 1823 and the other set of individual variations by 50 different composers was published in 1824. Therefore these composers could have been familiar with Beethoven. Nevertheless there are some fine pieces of music and they do draw attention to the thematic and harmonic details of the theme that were to interest Beethoven so much. - The Schubert variation is splendid and has no debt to Beethoven!

Secondly, Staier uses some of the additional pedals that are found on the fortepiano. This lends some very find sound effects to the 'Notto e Giorno Fatticar' variation due to the janissary pedal - surely Staier, Beethoven, or both had the Rondo a la Turca in mind here as well as Leporello's complaint? In variation 20 he uses a different pedal that creates a luminous quality to the music.

Thirdly, there are very intelligent program notes and an interview with Staier.

Fourthly, the performance is very fine. Staier conveys the introspection of Variation 30 (as an example) exquisitely. He also enjoys the more extrovert variations and these come off very well.

Fifth and last, the sound of the fortepiano is quite good. It stays in tune, it does not creak and rattle, it is a pleasure to listen to.
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I have several recordings of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and while it is a work I have long appreciated, it wasn’t until I heard this recent disc from Andreas Staier that I really started “getting it.” It’s the most infectiously joyous recording I have of the Diabellis. At times, Staier’s performance makes me almost want to get up and dance. Don’t forget, these are variations on a waltz, though after the first, opening theme, the waltz rhythm itself is pretty much absent. But they are full of musical humor. As Alfred Brendel said in an essay Must Classical Music Be Entirely Serious?, “…Beethoven here shines as the ‘most thoroughly initiated high priest of humour’; he calls the variations ‘a satire on their theme’.” Staier, in the liner notes, calls this music “ironic” and “sarcastic.”

Another unique aspect of this recording is that it is recorded on a fortepiano, with delicious, rich sound, which brings back the music as Beethoven heard it (or would have, if his hearing were better). Finally, this disc includes not only Beethoven’s variations, but also a selection of variations from other composers. When Diabelli wished to publish a set of variations on his theme, he sent the theme to a number of composers, and while many were published, it was Beethoven who went to the extreme, creating 33 variations. This recording includes variations by Mozart, Schubert, Czerny, Hummel and others, along with Staier’s own “Introduction,” an improvisation on the theme. All of these “remixes” are at the beginning of the disc, so if you only want to hear Beethoven, you can start listening at track 13.

As I said above, Staier’s performance here is lively, aggressive, and full of joy. It is a delight to hear him play this work, and especially on this attractive copy of a Graf fortepiano.
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This is a great recording of the Diabelli Variations and probably the best-recorded fortepiano I've ever heard. First things first: I love the way it opens with some of the 'other' Diabelli Variations by composers like Hummel, Schubert, and the young Liszt. The latter especially is fascinating. I also love the way Staier links them with the Beethoven by means of his own 'Introduction', which works very well. It sounds the way I imagine a Beethoven improvisation would sound, and in general it follows the older practice of performers opening a work with their own improvisations.

It perfectly sets the stage for what is a lively and energetic performance of the Diabelli Variations, with a great sense of continuity and cumulative sweep. This doesn't preclude individual characterisation of the variations or moments of repose, as the hauntingly played Variation 20 can demonstrate. No matter how many versions of the Diabelli Variations are in your collection, this one will make you hear it afresh, which is no mean feat.
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Though I often prefer performances on period instruments to those on modern instruments (especially in Haydn and composers earlier than him) I can't honestly say that I prefer hearing anything on a fortepiano to a modern concert grand. Staier's performances are the exception, he simply brings the fortepiano to life for me in a way that nobody else does. This recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations is a complete revelation. I have never heard any other pianist bring such a range of colours, textures and dynamics to this music and the performance has the most wonderful improvisatory feel that makes you think that you are hearing this music for the very first time. An outstanding album and if, like me, you find yourself reluctant to embrace the fortepiano Staier is the great artist to make you change your mind (try his late Schubert sonatas).
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