Beethoven: 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80; Piano Sonatas in C minor, Op. 10/1 & in C minor, Op. 111

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80; Piano Sonatas in C minor, Op. 10/1 & in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Lars Vogt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56136 2
There are plenty of pianists who treat Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor as a series of keyboard exercises to be tossed off as rapidly as their technique allows. Not so Lars Vogt, who clearly takes his Beethoven very seriously – seriously enough, indeed, to have programmed an entire disc of works in this most characteristically Beethovenian key. No one could reasonably complain that the music itself lacks variety, but it’s difficult not to feel the absence of tonal contrast between successive pieces.

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Welcome as it is to have a performance of the 32 Variations without a trace of superficiality about it, Vogt’s steady tempo does not always avoid the danger of undermining the sweeping continuity and forward thrust of the piece. His account of the slow movement of the Sonata, Op. 10/1, throws up another problem, and one that becomes more acute in the wonderful variations which conclude Beethoven’s last Sonata, Op. 111 – a tendency to concentrate on detail at the expense of line. In both these pieces a surfeit of accents robs the music of serenity, and prevents it from floating as it should.

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Among the many great pianists who have recorded the Op. 111 Sonata, I have a particularly special affection for the late Hungarian artist Annie Fischer. Of her three versions much the best is the one she made for the BBC in the late Seventies. In her hands the variations radiate an air of profound calm which goes right to the still centre of the music. Misha Donat