Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, etc

Imogen Cooper (piano) (Chandos)

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11 Bagatelles; 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; Für Elise
Imogen Cooper (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20085   78:32 mins

Look at the autograph manuscript for Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and you will see, visually reflected, all the emotions he experienced during its composition. Some are written out in a calm, almost calligraphic hand, while others are covered in frantic crossings-out; when he came to Variation 32 he clearly knocked over his ink bottle. And pianists bring their own emotions to bear. Imogen Cooper describes the work as ‘a wonderful journey… I am instantly in a good mood when practising or performing this piece’. And that is what overwhelmingly comes over in her superb recording.

The first few variations are sweetly serene, taken at a gentle pace with a warm touch and minimal pedalling. The grave e maestoso14th has a restrained beauty, and feels dreamily airborne; only with the imperious opening trill of the 16th does the work catch fire, and it’s a while before you realise that it inhabits the same soundworld as Op. 111, which was
being composed at the same time. Cooper wisely omits some of the repeats, thus allowing the shape of the work to emerge more satisfyingly. Particular pleasures include the honeyed sweetness of 24 which harks back to Bach, the limpid smoothness of the moto perpetuo in 25, and the translucency of sound in 26; from Variation 29 to the end of the work it all segues like one long meditation. Cooper never goes for effect per se: her goal is purely expressiveness.

Für Elise comes like a thoughtful coda; in the Op. 119 Bagatelles with which this recording begins, a tenderly ruminative charm alternates with a relishing of the sheer enigma of these tiny piano masterpieces.

Michael Church