Rudolf Serkin's intellectually probing, penetrating, virtuosic, and occasionally amusing 1957 recording of the Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, made at the 1957 Marlboro Festival and issued by Columbia, ranks among the best available recordings of the work. This 1954 recording of the Variations, however, puts up a good fight to join that rank. It comes from the Prades Festival -- Pablo Casals' annual concert series in his adopted town in France. Serkin's technique, never entirely impeccable, is fiery here, burning through the fast variations at a white heat. His tone is astoundingly varied here, brightly shining in the contrapuntal variations and clearly glowing in the lyrical variations. But, most importantly, the interpretation is astonishingly individualistic. The comedy, tragedy, melancholy, and depth of humanity are characteristically Serkin's. Coupled with a magisterial and magical Opus 109 Sonata recorded two days after the variations, this Diabelli should be heard by anyone who loves late Beethoven in general and these works in particular.
Maggi Payne's 2006 restoration of the Opus 109 Sonata is a bit warmer and a tad less edgy than Kit Higginson's 2007 restoration of the Diabelli Variations, but both do a wonderful job of making the performances sound vivid and real -- albeit far, far away.