Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Diabelli Variations
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 459 645-2
This disc represents Pollini at his best. Fifty minutes long, the Diabelli presume upon the listener’s commitment, but the variety of character and sense of irrepressible invention, triggered by aspects of Diabelli’s little waltz, also make the set riveting. Pollini tosses off the waltz itself briskly, without Brendel’s dry humour, without Bernard Roberts’s sly charm – though interpreting vivace liberally, Roberts anticipates the minuet the tune will become at the end. Indeed, neither charm nor humour enters into Pollini’s character as a pianist. You can imagine him muttering ‘I can’t be doing with all that!’ at Roberts’s tonal blandishments. Pollini doesn’t force the music into a straitjacket exactly, but he delivers it straight, without rhythmic bending or imposed ritardandi, though in Var. 21 he drifts lazily into threes where the music is written in fours. He likes a certain roughness of touch, and the serene Fughetta of Var. 24, after the furious semiquaver race of the variation before it, is not cosmetically smooth. Spiritual calm goes with a bit of physical discomfort, perhaps. The whole thing seems born of suffering and effort – there’s a lot of groaning and supplementary singing, and in the lashing trills and arpeggios of Var. 6, Pollini exhorts himself noisily. All of which will suit many people’s idea of Beethoven as the artist as hero: austere, driven and self-denying. Adrian Jack