Beethoven: 33 Variations in C on a Waltz by Diabelli; 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: CRD
WORKS: 33 Variations in C on a Waltz by Diabelli; 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor
PERFORMER: Ian Fountain (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3506
Like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s June, distinguished recordings of the Diabelli Variations seem to be bustin’ out all over: outstanding reissues from Barenboim and Kuerti are now joined by two releases featuring younger pianists, the Chilean Alfredo Perl and England’s Ian Fountain.

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As they are of equal distinction the deciding factor for purchasers will have to be one of approach. Perl’s reading is bigger, bolder, more muscular and architectural, Fountain’s is exceptionally beautiful, even poetic (not a word that generally springs to mind for this rugged masterpiece), and permeated with a subtlety and refinement from which many pianists, and not only young ones, could learn a lot. For some, his approach may seem too tame: he works within a relatively narrow dynamic range, especially at the upper end of the spectrum, and perhaps smoothes over the rougher edges of Beethoven’s occasional bully-boy tactics (the first variation is a kick in the teeth which must have had poor old Diabelli spinning for months), but this is a deeply thoughtful and impeccably artistic meditation on one of the great peaks of the repertoire.

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Perl, taking Beethoven at his word, goes for sharper contrasts and a more dramatic rhythmic profile, and the piano-playing need bow to no one. With no sacrifice of finesse along the way, he powerfully conveys the sheer immensity of Beethoven’s thought here. In both releases the sound is excellent, and well tailored to the performances at hand.