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WHM (Amsterdam)

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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Op 120
Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Op 120
Price: £18.60

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven and Sokolov at their very best, 26 April 2009
The Diabelli Variations (Op. 120) are Beethoven's last major work for the piano. The work went neglected for decades after its publication in 1824 until Hans von Bülow rediscovered it, championing it as the "Mikrokosmos of Beethoven's genius" (as if he had already heard Bartok). "Indeed", he wrote, "the whole world of tone and evolution of musical thought is outlined here, from the most contained contemplation to the most abandoned humor - an unbelievable rich variety". Many will agree that Op. 120 is one of Beethoven's foremost compositions; for sure the greatest set of variations ever written for the piano. Alfred Brendel (who recorded the work three times) even called it "the greatest of all piano works". Yet, unlike the sonatas, the work isn't heard too often in the concert hall.

Grigory Sokolov, winner of the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition (at age 16), is one of the most formidable and characterful pianists of our time. An uncompromising, awe-inspiring artist, famous in Europe (where he regularly performs) but virtually unknown elsewhere. He is by many considered to be the greatest living pianist. His recordings are sadly few, but there is a great DVD featuring Sokolov in recital (Live in Paris; check out YouTube).

In this live recording from 1985, Sokolov reveals the Diabelli Variations as a daring and supreme masterpiece, with spellbinding, imaginative and colorful playing. Although Sokolov has a slight tendency to self-indulgence and idiosyncrasies here and there, his playing always remains tasteful and affectionate. In the fast variations, Sokolov displays a whirlwind power and intensity reminiscent of that other Russian giant, Sviatoslav Richter. All in all, a great performance on all accounts, magnetic from first to last. The piano sound is full and immediate. Highly recommended!

Overall playing time: 60 minutes.

Handel - Opera Duets and Arias
Handel - Opera Duets and Arias
Price: £15.12

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavenly Handel singing by Sandrine Piau and Sara Mingardo, 12 April 2009
I have only utter praise for this superb recording of Handel arias and duets by Sandrine Piau and Sara Mignardo, accompanied by Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano. Handel opera fans are well acquainted with the divine French soprano Sandrine Piau, based on her marvelous "disc of the year"-quality performance of Handel arias a few years ago (Handel Arias/Piau) and her Cleopatra performance in Giulio Cesare. Piau's radiant soprano voice and seemingly effortless singing are just stunning. Sara Mingardo is one of today's rare true contraltos, whose low register is well suited to the many roles Handel wrote for castratos.

The arias and duets are carefully selected gems from ten different Handel operas. As conductor Alessandrini explains: "We were careful to avoid the best-known arias and to maintain contrast from one number to another. And we kept the recitatives, so as to place the characters in the dramatic context of the opera and set the dominant mood of each aria".

The result is magnificent. Six moving duets, six solo arias (the ones by Piau are the highlights), all of them preceded by short recitativos, and two vibrant ouvertures for orchestra alone make for a extraordinary CD. The Concerto Italiano's playing is every bit as exciting as Piau's and Mingardo's singing. Don't miss this CD!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2009 5:47 PM BST

Beethoven: Diabelli Variations & Bach: Partita No.4 (2008 recording)
Beethoven: Diabelli Variations & Bach: Partita No.4 (2008 recording)
Price: £13.71

12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 15 Mar. 2009
I had high expectations of Stephen Kovacevich's new recording of the Diabelli Variations, but I'm greatly disappointed. Equally disappointed as I was by his recent recital in London, where the Diabelli formed the centerpiece. Like the CD, the recital left me cold. A middle-of-the-road performance, characterized by excessive speed, sloppy pedalling, harsh tone and, above all, lack of imagination and color. I couldn't agree more with the critic in the Guardian (Andrew Clements), who wrote: "Even his greatest fans could hardly have regarded this Diabelli as anything but a disappointment. There were just occasional glimpses of the unvarnished musicality that characterises Kovacevich's playing at its best, most notably in the trio of slow variations that come just before the end, when the world of Beethoven's late piano sonatas is briefly revisited. But even those moments remained earthbound, while many of the faster variations seemed cluttered and unfocused, with unpredictable pedalling and an ungratefully harsh tone. Such an enormous span of music needs careful shaping, too, but there was little sense of that, nor of the drama that can provide moments of light and shade".

My favorite performance of the Diabelli is the one by Gregory Sokolov, a live recording from 1985 in St. Petersburg (Diabelli Variations Op. 120 (Sokolov)). Sokolov reveals the Diabelli as a daring and supreme masterpiece, with spellbinding, imaginative and colorful playing. A great performance on all accounts, showing both Sokolov and Beethoven at their very best. My second choice would be the performances by Brendel, Serkin and the young Kovacevich (his 1969 recording). I will not return to Kovacevich's new CD any time soon.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 11, 2010 12:26 PM GMT

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