Beethoven: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; 15 Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E flat (Eroica Variations)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; 15 Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E flat (Eroica Variations)
PERFORMER: Bernard Roberts (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 7710 DDD
Some pianists find it hard to forget Romantic portraits of Beethoven which make him look bad-tempered. They underplay his humour and his warmth. Bernard Roberts doesn’t go out of his way to show these qualities, yet they emerge naturally. Nor does he strain after the intellectual – he takes its measure but is not crushed by it. The fugue concluding the Eroica Variations is joyful, but as Shostakovich might have put it, there’s no gun forcing it to be so. The playing is both majestic and ardent, ringing with conviction and sublimely simple. Just listen to the splendid way Roberts unfurls the huge decorative ropes of notes in the second of the Eroica Variations!

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I don’t really like the piano sound so far back, but that is the Nimbus style, and if you feel you’re the only listener in a large room, at least the instrument’s tone is warm and clear.

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As alternatives in this coupling, the current catalogue offers recordings by two venerable Russian women, Maria Yudina and Tatiana Nikolayeva, both now dead. With due homage to them, you can’t go wrong with Roberts, who combines absolute technical security with spontaneity. Adrian Jack