Julius Katchen

Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

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There are many good points in English pianist Julius Katchen's 1953 recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and the 1955 recording of his Op. 111 Sonata. Katchen clearly has the technique to play late Beethoven, and nothing here is beyond him, neither the knuckle-busting fugue at the climax of the Variations, nor the finger-twisting triple trills near the close of the sonata. Katchen certainly understands everything in these enormous works, and no nuance goes unnoticed, neither the Diabelli's many-sided humor nor the sonata's ad astra per aspera heroic trajectory. There are other problems with the performance, though. Katchen's playing, while supremely polished, has nary a note of spontaneity in it. Every attack, every release, every shade, and every color sounds like it was thoroughly considered prior to the performances, and then performed exactly that way, so there's not a hint of excitement in Katchen's interpretations. The Variations' humor is so dry it is brittle, and the sonata's dramatic trajectory is as predictable as death and taxes. Because the pianist seems more relaxed, there is more to enjoy in Katchen's 1968 recording of Beethoven's Polonaise in C major, but the remainder of the performances are only likely to appeal to die-hard Katchen fans. Decca's sound is clear and clean in all three works, but the earlier recordings have less weight and heft.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Variations (33) on a waltz by Diabelli, for piano in C major ("Diabelli Variations"), Op. 120
1
0:50
2
1:16
3
0:44
4
1:12
5
1:03
6
0:50
7
1:23
8
0:57
9
1:11
10
1:29
11
0:33
12
0:50
13
0:46
14
0:51
15
4:35
16
0:34
17
0:56
18
0:58
19
1:30
20
0:42
21
1:44
22
1:11
23
0:46
24
0:50
25
1:49
26
0:46
27
0:46
28
0:54
29
0:47
30
1:08
31
1:39
32
4:54
33
2:47
34
3:18
35
5:10
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
36
8:41 Amazon
37
16:43 Amazon
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