Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; Six Bagatelles, Op. 126

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; Six Bagatelles, Op. 126
PERFORMER: Gary Cooper (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: Channel CCS SA 29110 (hybrid CD/SACD)

Returning the Diabellis to the soundworld of the year in which they were completed throws up some intriguing paradoxes: what would Beethoven’s contemporaries have heard in 1822? And in any case, the actual piano sounds Beethoven must have carried in his head would have been informed by the very different instruments of his youth. No matter. Gary Cooper’s restored ‘Walter und Sohn’ proves revelatory – though it’s a pity that the booklet isn’t more forthcoming about its palette of colours including a splendid ‘bassoon’ buzz underscoring the ‘Don Giovanni’ variation, and a harp-like otherworldliness towards the end of the Coda.
Up until now, those curious to venture past gritty Pollini, aristocratic Brendel or youthful Kovacevich have had to turn for fortepiano enlightenment to Paul Komen or Edmund Battersby; but Cooper is much the most persuasive. His is a supremely coherent view, always aware how a variation fits into the bigger scheme. He may not conclusively convey Beethoven’s humour and gusto, but the claveciniste-clarity of the elaborately-ornamented Variation No. 6 and the intellectual grandeur of the Fugue are proof of a keen intelligence that elucidates Beethoven’s musical thinking as surely as his instrument illuminates its textural ingenuity. Paul Riley