32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO80; 6 Variations on an Original Theme in F major, Op. 34; 15 Variations and a fugue on an Original Theme ‘Eroica’, Op. 35; 9 Variations on the aria ‘Quant’e piu bello’, WoO69; 6 Variations on the duet ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’, WoO70; 7 Variations on ‘God Save the King’, WoO78; 5 Variations on ‘Rule, Britannia’, WoO79
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Hyperion CDA68346 78:20 mins
Beethoven’s three major sets of solo piano variations leading up to his culminating masterpiece of the genre, the Diabelli Variations, make for a striking sequence. The chaconne-like neo-Baroque gravity of the 32 Variations in C minor yield to the more intimate yet tonally adventurous Six Variations in F major. Then follows the flamboyant virtuosity of the large-scale 15 Variations and Fugue in E flat, based on the bass line and theme Beethoven had already used in his Prometheus ballet music and would use again in the finale of his Eroica Symphony. All the same the alternating on this disc of the four lighter remaining sets of variations with the three major sets might have made for a more varied overall listening experience than lumping them together as a kind of appendix.
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That said, it is hard to fault this release. Angela Hewitt unfolds the marmoreal progress of the C minor Variations with an implacable logic, yet finds a tenderly affectionate touch for the theme of the F major set and a precise sense of timing in her witty and ebullient reading of wide-ranging Eroica Variations and Fugue. Nor are the more knockabout variations on ‘God save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ any less pointed – Hewitt’s ever-immaculate finger work enhanced by Hyperion’s spacious yet focused recording and by the special qualities of the Fazioli grand piano she treasured for so long. Alas, this session proved the instrument’s swansong. During its removal immediately afterwards, it got dropped and smashed to bits.