Beethoven: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; Bagatelles, Op. 119

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; Bagatelles, Op. 119
PERFORMER: Andreï Vieru (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901613
In an age increasingly glutted with recordings of similar repertoire, it’s perhaps excusable to greet yet another disc of well-exposed Beethoven with a sense of ennui. How refreshing, then, to encounter fresh thought, new insights, adventurous exploration and the exceptional psychological finesse evident (if sometimes a little sporadically) throughout Chung’s performances here. She takes a genuinely original approach, but without any sense of wilful idiosyncrasy. While she is by no means insensitive to the works’ emotional and intellectual power, there’s something almost French in her delicate attention to detail and finely-wrought proportion. The Bagatelles emerge rather like a Beethovenian ‘hommage à Couperin’, characterised by an artful, expressive versatility, from the impish wit of No. 2 to the astoundingly weird self-immolation of No. 7. The Sonata Op.109, too, gets a performance of crystalline integrity, and the Appassionata is revealingly closer in spirit and conception to Haydn than to Liszt.

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For all its undoubted beauties and instrumental command, I find myself less engaged by Vieru’s playing, though it must be said that French critics have admiringly compared him to Richter, Rubinstein and Arrau. This is Beethoven as we’re more used to hearing him: big-boned, imposingly sonorous, rhetorical – but in this particular case I feel an insufficiency of contrasts at almost every level, and a want of intellectual toughness. The fingers I hear, but not the defiant Beethovenian fist. Jeremy Siepmann