Ludwig van Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, is a magisterial summation of his methods and a monument to the art of variation, comparable to J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations. The work was developed from a simple waltz theme by Viennese publisher Anton Diabelli, who collected variations from all the composers of note in Austria, including Carl Czerny, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, Ignaz Moscheles, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, Franz Schubert, and even the young Franz Liszt. However, Beethoven was so challenged by the theme's possibilities that he provided not one variant, but 33, and his variations became Part I of Diabelli's publication, Väterlandischer Künstlerverein. Beethoven's set is more than an elaborate reworking of the melody or the basic chord progression. It is instead a distillation of all the musical elements found in the theme, which are obsessively broken down then rigorously developed into a virtuosic display of Beethoven's fertile imagination and a showcase for the pianist's skill and stamina. Peter Orth's excellent performance of the Diabelli Variations for Challenge Classics is a focused, energetic, and tightly structured rendition, so the music starts out at a high level of excitement and remains compelling for its duration. For a performance that runs close to an hour in length, this is an astonishing achievement, and listeners who have struggled to get through the Diabelli Variations in less brilliant performances will be able to hear this recording with pleasure in one sitting. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson