There are dozens of available recordings of the 33 Variations for piano on a waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, which, along with the Ninth Symphony, is Beethoven's ultimate statement of the potential of variation form. But this one by Russian-American pianist Vladimir Feltsman ranks among the very best. Feltsman deploys the resources of Russian pianism -- the powerful left hand, the ability to create large musical spaces, the effortless texture shifts -- in a way that enhances Beethoven's musical language and doesn't compete with it. Feltsman carefully builds up the awesome dimensions of his reading, taking time and focusing on the lower lines of the first several variations. By the time he gets to the first round of slow and harmonically profound variations listeners are sensitized to the smaller details he places in between the main lines, and the three massive slow variations at the end, Nos. 29-31, are awe-inspiring in their detail and seeming rhythmic flexibility. In the fast variations, too, even the one that begins with a sample of Mozart's Don Giovanni, the effect is one of depth and great probing. Cumulatively the performance keeps giving you things to come back to and reconsider later, and Nimbus does typically excellent engineering work at Britain's Wyastone Estate concert hall. This is a real keeper.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120|