Beethoven: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: ASV Gold
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli; Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78
PERFORMER: Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GLD 4017
I’m truly sorry to have to take issue with so fine a pianist as Nikolai Demidenko, but these performances strike me as wilfully perverse – as though he had deliberately set out to do the reverse of whatever Beethoven asks. Of course, there’s always scope for interpretative freedom, but a composer nevertheless sets certain parameters which can’t be exceeded without betraying both the letter and the spirit of the music. Take the opening movement of the beautiful F sharp major Sonata, Op. 78. Beethoven ends it with four emphatic chords, catapulting the start of the following finale, but Demidenko, perhaps not wanting to disturb the music’s largely intimate atmosphere, fabricates a pianissimo close. There are times in the great Diabelli Variations, when he even composes his own transitions to soften the impact of Beethoven’s deliberate contrasts. Variation 13,

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in which Beethoven amuses himself with extreme oppositions of texture and dynamics, ends with a dry octave, but Demidenko plays a full-blooded C major chord instead, sustaining it to form a link to the following variation, whose solemn, dragging rhythm he obligingly smooths out. Variation 15 is a largely pianissimo scherzo, after which an explosive trill signals the start of the next variation. Finding the change too abrupt, Demidenko invents another transition, playing a gradual crescendo on a vastly elongated trill.

I could go on, but for a fine performance of the Diabelli Variations that respects both its sudden changes of mood and its overall architecture, you’d do better to look elsewhere – to Piotr Anderzsewski (Virgin) for example, or, better still, Alfred Brendel.

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Misha Donat