The catalyst for Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, which was to be one of his last and by far the longest works for solo piano, was the request of contemporary composer and publisher Anton Diabelli, who invited 50 leading composers to submit variation sets on one of his waltzes. Beethoven, who was a master of theme and variation, made easy work of this task. Despite submissions by other equally famous composers (including Schubert and Liszt), Beethoven's work clearly stood out above the rest. Diabelli himself was to have compared it to Bach's Goldberg Variations. The theme and 32 variations run the gamut of varying temperaments, tempi, and emotions, providing a challenge to pianists' technique and listeners' attention.
Few pianists have been as consistent and uniform in their interpretation of Beethoven as Sviatoslav Richter. His approach is unshakably clean and unsullied by over-romanticized and over-pedaled styles. This recording of the Diabelli Variations is no different; Richter is quite true to the score and is able to make splendid and abrupt changes in character with no apparent effort. Many of Richter's recorded works are from live concerts made in countless venues. Depending on the instrument he was given and the acoustics in the room, this unfortunately yielded sound quality that is less than ideal, as is the case on this album. The piano itself appears to be of poor quality; the upper registers are substantially out of tune and the bass has no depth or resonance. Still, Richter's technique and sublime musicianship make it all worthwhile.