Beethoven: 33 Variations in C on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: 33 Variations in C on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120
PERFORMER: William Kinderman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66763 DDD
In a bid to whip up business in 1819, the publisher Anton Diabelli invited fifty composers to write variations on a waltz of his devising. Among the dutiful respondents were Schubert, Czerny and the young Liszt, but Diabelli can hardly have expected to prompt such a whirlwind of creativity as came from Beethoven: Hans von Bülow described the resulting set of 33 variations as ‘a microcosm of Beethoven’s art’.

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Kinderman uses his own edition, which aims to restore some of the idiosyncrasies that he believes other editors have, misguidedly, tried to correct. The emendations are relatively minor, but might add to our sense of the inventiveness of Beethoven’s enterprise – his intellectual rigour, capaciousness and wit. Kinderman rightly treats each variation as self-sufficient – playful, parodic or transcendent – so that the force of the piece comes from accretion. But he also brings alive the implicit tensions that arise from the strictures of the form, summed up by the invocation of that most ambivalent of servants, Leporello.

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Kinderman’s account is enlightening and often brilliant, but is perhaps too reverent, and one sometimes wishes for the kind of energetic audacity that characterises Brendel’s approach to this music, just as it characterised Beethoven’s attitude to Diabelli’s commonplace waltz. William Humphreys-Jones