Even though hearing Ludwig van Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, performed by Andreas Staier on a fortepiano, may be the main selling point of this 2012 release on Harmonia Mundi, it seems to take second place when the CD's curiosities are considered. Viennese publisher Anton Diabelli challenged a number of Austrian composers to devise variations on his original waltz, and though Beethoven's set of 33 variations has come down to us as the most memorable result of this contest, one almost never hears any of the variations composed by the likes of Carl Czerny, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, Joseph Kerkowsky, Conradin Kreutzer, Franz Liszt, Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Peter Pixis, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, or Franz Schubert. Diabelli collected 50 variations from as many living composers, which he published as Part II of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. But Beethoven's magisterial set was published as Part I, so Staier's reversal of the parts on this recording is strategic, to entice the listener to try the less familiar variations first, and even offering his own witty variation as an Introduction, before heading straightway into Beethoven's richly developed work. The recital is totally convincing, and Staier's plan works, because hearing the variations in their published order would have been anti-climactic, since Beethoven's monumental music dwarfs even the cleverest of his contemporaries' efforts. Staier's playing is energetic, fun, and exciting, and the sonorities he pulls out of the modern copy of a Conrad Graf fortepiano are surprisingly robust and in-tune. Harmonia Mundi's sound seems to come in and out of focus, due to the acoustics of the room, but overall it is a pleasantly resonant recording that gives the instrument its due.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Diabelli Variations, Op. 120|