Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated! is a set of 36 variations for piano on a Chilean mass song. It is something of an answer to Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, with which it shares a variety of references to music outside itself, and also to Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, which it resembles in the presence of smaller cycles within the larger group, in the return of the transfigured theme at the end, and in extreme virtuosity that has attracted keyboard demons like Marc-André Hamelin increasingly often in recent years. On top of all that is the basic subject matter: the work, composed in 1975, was a direct protest against the overthrow of the Chilean government of Salvador Allende. The work's large, eclectic quality has gained it lots of attention; the work's popular elements were rare enough in 1975, but they're not anymore. There are other good recordings, but Danish pianist Ole Kiilerich has an attractive obsessive quality that does the work good. It's a difficult piece at times for the listener, as well, for it shifts gears in ways that aren't always clear, and a certain sense of struggling with the material, as indeed with much of late Beethoven, is essential. This Kiilerich provides, and the Bridge label's close-up sound, recorded at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in the Danish city of Odense, is optimal. More and more, Rzewski's work seems to be emerging as a modern classic, and the seriousness of approach shown by players like Kiilerich is integral to the process.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The People United Will Never be Defeated! 36 Variations on a Chilean Folk Song|