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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
Beethoven: Diabelli Variations
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on 27 July 2012
The live recording of the Diabelli Variations by Grigory Sokolov is amazing. It took me a long time to track down a recording of this work that I'm entirely satisfied with. I feel that Richter plays the Diabelli Variations far too quickly. Just listen to the last variation to see what I mean. The less said about Anderszewski the better.
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on 14 April 2017
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. If the instrument cannot conjure up the seamless lyricism of a modern concert grand (which may well be what Beethoven wanted for his great spans of lyricism within his ideal world of internal sound though of course we will never know) it certainly holds its own while providing a fine pallet of registral sounds that are not present on modern pianos.

If only Staier could go back in time and coax Chopin to add a variation....such a fine musician, I wouldn't put it past him!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 May 2014
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. The recording is excellent; the fortepiano is very prominent and full-bodied, and there is no excess of reverb to drown its subtle sounds.

(It’s worth noting that Staier recorded this work based on the autograph manuscript (which you can see here). According to the liner notes, this manuscript had been “inaccessible” up until 2009.)

It seems that there is only one other fortepiano recording of this work by Jörg Demus (reissued by DG in August, 2012). It is odd that there are not more recordings of this great work, even on modern piano. (I assume that Ronald Brautigam will be releasing a recording of this as part of his complete Beethoven survey on fortepiano.) While most of the major pianists have recorded it – I especially like Alfred Brendel’s recordings – it doesn’t have the popularity of, say, Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Yet it remains one of the greatest works of variations for piano, and Staier’s recording should help it get a bit more exposure.

If you’re not familiar with this work, Andreas Staier’s fortepiano recording is a great way to discover it. And if you do know the work, but on modern piano, it’s wonderful to hear it on an original instrument. Either way, this is a great recording of a great work, and one that any lover of Beethoven’s piano works should get.
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on 21 January 2013
I have never regarded the Diabelli Variations as being top-tier Beethoven. Given how much I enjoy the artistry of Andreas Staier, I leapt upon this copy at the library: here was an opportunity to move it up the ranks. Staier plays a fortepiano `after Conrad Graf' - I presume this is an instrument that Beethoven would have recognized - whatever that means in a mundane sense. Before I move onto the disc, let's digress.

My `Beloved Adversary' on Amazon recently made a point.

`Of course "we" all assume that [Composer X] knew what he was doing and therefore `we have become ever more assiduous in matching his intentions, performing his works on instruments he would have recognized, with tempi and articulation that he would have chosen, mastering . . . techniques that he would have relished.'

To my mind, this is 'flat earth-ish' at best. Auden tells us that `we are lived by the powers we pretend to understand.' In many a creation, there is more content than what its creator intended - the muse is the ultimate determinant as to scope and its translation into meaning. Elsewhere, Virginia Woolf famously told us that human nature changed on the eve of Armageddon. If so - if so - how is one to measure the abyss that lies between our Weltanschauung (world view) and that of Beethoven's audience in the late 1820s in Imperial Vienna? What does this all mean? I suggest this: it is pernicious to think that we can encompass if not enmesh Beethoven merely by playing one of his works stylishly on an instrument of his time. Any art that is not able to transcend the circumstances of its genesis to address later generations on their own terms and mysteriously so is an art that warrants the scrutiny of bald-headed scholars and listeners alike and that's about it.

With that rant out of the way, be it on a harpsichord or fortepiano, Steinway or Moog Synthesizer, the artistry of Andreas Staier is always a delight. To my ears, this is endeavour is a complete success: a master is at work. Staier has the requisite sense of theatre to bring this work fully to life. His characterization is vivid. Be it the drollness of XXIII or the numinosity of XX, he is equal to the task. The rambunctiousness of `Beethoven the Giant in the Land of the Lilliputians' (XXII) is vibrantly conveyed. Come the final Variation, there is a overwhelming sense of homecoming as if Odysseus has finally returned to Ithaca, well-worn but wiser. Nor is there any sense of miniaturization with a fortepiano in play; one soon forgets the instrument in question to marvel at the realization.

The other reviewer argues that the resonance of the acoustic militates this recording. I disagree. It is true that in many of the Variations (such as II, XIV & XX) Staier plays pianissimo but this is never done precociously. The recording is cut at the one level. While it is unlikely that this studio performance was recorded in the one take, I cannot detect any seams. Whenever he hammers it, therefore, it is a thrill. If the other reviewer had not made this point, it would never have come to my mind.

Buy this recording with confidence. It's a stupendous Opus 120. Evergreen, it speaks to today and beyond.
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on 21 July 2017
A superb account of this masterwork: a work which encompasses every aspect of Beethoven's keyboard style. This set of 32 variations is relatively less well-known than other opuses in his output but must rank as one of the most remarkable and wide-ranging piano pieces ever written by any musician.

The sheer variety of form, mood and technical challenge encountered is astonishing, even 200 years after it was composed. Truly, Beethoven's achievement dwarfs that by any of the other 49 composer-pianists of the 1800s who were invited to contribute variations to Anton Diabelli to promote his music publishing venture. That is not to say that other composers failed in their attempts - 11 of these are included in Andreas Staier's recital - but that Beethoven's genius was so exalted by comparison.

The use of a Forte piano, such as Beethoven would have known, adds a breadth of expression not available on a modern concert grand, and Staier's command of the instrument is complete. It would be hard to fault a single note of this excellent Cd.
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on 28 May 2017
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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on 26 June 2012
There are many versions of the Diabelli available, but this comfortably holds its own with the best (among which I would include Paul Lewis, Nikolyeva, Anderzewski to pick a few.) Staier is a superb pianist, and sails effortlessly through what is a very difficult piece of music. Two things make this cd especially interesting.

The first is the inclusion of variations written by other composers who were asked to contribute. They are competent and interesting enough, but show the different league that Beethoven was in compared to most of his contemporaries. (The Liszt variation, apparently written when he was 12, is an amazingly virtuosic piece from one so young.)

The second is the instrument used - a fortepiano with plenty of range and volume, and with some interesting effects used occasionally. One sounds as if the whole instrument is about to collapse.

I won't rabbit on about what Staier does with each variation, but he's obviously put a lot of work and thought into the performance, and the whole thing hangs together and flows beautifully.

Get it - you'll probably love it as much as I do.
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on 9 August 2014
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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on 8 December 2012
The most 'in tune' fortepiano I've ever heard. This is good music but not great and yes there are saucepans in there. I'd rather listen to a Stephen Bishop Kovacevich version. What makes this a really interesting buy is some of the other variations written by composers of the day. The 11 year old Liszt's version is very precocious. A number of lesser known composers tried some really adventurous harmonies which perhaps is a comment on why Beethoven picked this theme to write the greatest set of variations of all time. Then rather cheekily Steier writes a kind of fantasia which leads without pause into the Diabelli theme. Would he have done this if Beethoven had written it? Probably not!
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on 27 July 2012
The studio recording of the Diabelli Variations by Andreas Staier is amazing. It took me a long time to track down a recording of this work that I'm entirely satisfied with on an instrument of the kind that Beethoven knew. Andrew Clements: "Staier's variations of touch and tone and the nuances of his pedalling would be remarkable on a modern concert grand, let alone such an early instrument, while he is always alert to the ways in which he can articulate and alter the pacing of what can seem a forbidding span of music. " Indeed this is an extraordinary performance, especially for those who are curious about just how much a fortepiano is capable of in the right hands.
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