There's a compelling story behind the career of British pianist Nick van Bloss, but for those who don't know it, hold off until listening to this superb recording of Beethoven's 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli for piano: it's not really relevant to what's heard on the album, and it might distract some from a reading that needs a good deal of concentration. This recording has a similar ambition and scope to van Bloss' previous Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. Even in Beethoven's own time, the Diabelli variations were regarded as something of an answer to Bach's set, but few pianists attempt the pair. Van Bloss' reading develops organically, both within individual variations and over the course of the whole set, which the pianist, in the interview-format notes, describes as a recapitulation of Beethoven's career, from the jocular early style through the dramatic middle to the revelatory, ecstatic late breakthroughs. He does not try to get your attention at the beginnings of variations or sections, which are presented in a neutral way, but soon enough listeners will become aware of the logic with which things are being developed. In the group of slow variations at the end, van Bloss avoids playing up the strangeness of the quasi-improvisatory figuration, but instead there's a sense of how it has grown out of the basic material. Van Bloss' reading might be called low-key, but it's not intellectual, and it gains quite a bit of intensity as it proceeds. The intimate engineering at England's fine Wyastone Concert Hall plays a major role here. The decision to conclude with the Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ("Appassionata"), is an odd one; technically fine as the performance is, it somehow breaks the mood of what has preceded. But the fact that that mighty work could be made to seem something of an afterthought shows what listeners will be dealing with in the Diabelli Variations here.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120|
|Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata"|