WORKS: Variations, Opp. 34 & 35 (Eroica), WoO 69-71, 78-80
PERFORMER: Olli Mustonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 436 834-2 DDD
The most substantial works here are the Eroica Variations, Op. 35 and their companion-piece, the Variations, Op. 34. Beethoven himself made justifiable claims for their originality: the Op. 35 set (whose theme subsequently formed the basis of the Eroica Symphony’s finale) begins in passacaglia style, using only the theme’s quirky bass line, and culminates in a large-scale fugue; while Op. 34 throws most of the accepted principles of variation writing out of the window – each successive variation being in a different key, tempo and metre. Also included are two sets based on popular Italian opera arias of the day, and a further two in which Beethoven has fun with ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule, Britannia’.
Olli Mustonen’s style is nothing if not highly idiosyncratic. His liking for spiky accents and extreme staccatos means that true legato playing is very much at a premium; yet there’s no denying the vividness of these interpretations. They sound like genuine, single-take performances – an impression that is reinforced by a healthy sprinkling of wrong notes (none of them of any real consequence). And thanks to a sensibly steady tempo the well-known 32 Variations in C minor sound for once like music, rather than mere finger exercises. Misha Donat