Beethoven: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli
PERFORMER: Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45468 2
Some time ago I turned on the car radio and found myself confronted with a performance of the Diabelli Variations so transfixing in its beauty, intensity and artistic illumination that I had to pull over to the side of the road, switch off the engine and listen to the end. It was a live performance, from the Cheltenham Festival, by Piotr Anderszewski. It says something that I’ve had (not had, wanted) to listen to the present performance three times over, one after another, before I felt competent to review it. The artistry is every bit as transfixing as in that Cheltenham performance: the insight revelatory, the pianism extraordinary at every level. The man is some kind of genius. But I wouldn’t think of recommending this disc as a first choice to anyone. Not, at any rate, to anyone unacquainted with this colossal masterpiece. The interpretation is simply too personal, too full of what the uncharitable will call idiosyncrasy, to serve as an introduction to a work which, in any case, takes a lot of getting to know. All masterworks are unique, but some are more unique than others. And a performer who allows as much as ten seconds between some variations (and in other cases none), is going to make a lot of people apoplectic with indignation. On the other hand, this performance will teach you more about the Diabelli Variations (and about polyphony and harmonic structure and pianistic textures and spiritual universality) than any other known to me, providing you’re prepared to learn. I really can’t suggest a benchmark alternative of this; there’s simply nothing else to which it can sensibly be compared – except perhaps Gould’s first recording of the Goldbergs – which takes us back almost half a century.