Author Topic: Diabelli Variations  (Read 12642 times)

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Offline Holden

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Diabelli Variations
« on: March 29, 2008, 03:55:03 PM »
This doesn't seem to have been done before apart from a thread by Dirk that, unfortunately, didn't go very far. Let's hope this one does better as while recordings of this work are numerous, good recordings are not.

To me, Op 120 is Beethoven's pianistic masterpiece. What he creates from a very simple little tune leaves him as the undeniable master of the variations genre. What's more, all his sets of variations seem to have a coherency about them that make them appear to be an integral work with a beginning, middle and end that seem connected and this is what makes 'great recordings' of Op 120 so hard to accomplish. Only a few pianists have got there yet it does have it's 'aiming' points that can make this happen. Variations 1, 15 and 25 are so grotesque that they can only be some sort of sarcastic caricature that LvB is making on the main theme. So you can divide OP 120 into three sections; Var 1-14, 15-24 and 25 - 33. The placing of the two fugues is no accident either and also help to give closure to sections.  From here, a pianist has to use a combination of variable tempos and LvBs 'Sturm und Drang' to bring each set 'back home' to Diabelli's original Waltz theme. As a listener, I always find that theme is in my mind no matter what variation is being played and coming back to it (after straying well away) gives me a satisfying feeling.

The other major requirement is how the opening theme is played. Tempo and inflection are very important as this will shape the pianists approach to the rest of the work. I've heard versions of this where the opening has either been too fast or slow and while the following Var I does sound grotesque it also sounds out of place.

I have recordings of this work by the following pianists

Brendel (VOX)
Ciani
Kovacevich
Richter (Prague)
Richter (Amsterdam)
Schnabel
Sokolov

I have also heard (but didn't acquire)
Arrau
Barenboim
Brendel #2
Andrzewski
Ugorski

I would like to hear
Rudolf Serkin
William Kinderman
Maria Yudina

The No Show's

Ugorski's is the worst recording of any piano piece I've ever heard. Barenboim is ponderous as opposed to inspired and the same goes for Sokolov (acquired as part of a 5 CD set). Brendel's version two for Philips, while good, doesn't match his VOX box version and Andrzewski does things with the music that are were never intended and don't work. I found that it lacked any form of coherence and I might as well have been listening to 34 different pieces. Richter in Prague, while very good is definitely outshone by his 1986 recording in the Concertegebouw.

The Contenders

Dino Ciani's version is very good and though I think he takes the theme too fast he manages to pull things back together after Var IV and from there on it is a very satisfying performance.

Artur Schnabel owns this work and he manages to keep the whole work flowing. I wonder what would have happened if hadn't decided to champion it. When you compare Op 120 to LvBs other works there aren't really that many recordings out there. BTW, does anyone know of a Diabelli discography site?

Steven Kovacevich is in the Schnabel mold and the advantage of modern stereo sound almost makes getting the Schnabel superfluous - almost!

Sviatoslav Richter's greatest asset as a musician for me was not his awesome technical skills but his ability to portray the 'big picture', looking past the main moments of a work to link all it's parts and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. This is what makes him such a great Beethoven interpreter and you can see this gift quite clearly in his recordings of Schubert's D894 and D960 sonatas plus the 'Wanderer'. Also consider his Schumann Op 17 - I could go on. So when he manages to pull of the impossible in this late recording and make it all sound linked I'm not surprised.

Pianists who didn't record it who I would have liked to have heard

Solomon - who better?
Sergio Fiorentino
Kempff (or has he?)
Gilels

The Tragedy is that I don't have a copy of what I believe is the most coherently conceived recording of this work - Claudio Arrau on Philips from the 1970s(?). Holidaying in NZ I spent 2 weeks with this CD (from Wellington Library) and fell in love with it. However, none of the stores there had a copy and there were no burning facilities where I was staying so I'm still without it despite looking around here in Australia.

I'd be interested to hear your opinions on recordings and approaches to the Diabellis. Feel free to agree or disagree with me.
Cheers

Holden

Offline orbital

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2008, 05:49:36 PM »

The Tragedy is that I don't have a copy of what I believe is the most coherently conceived recording of this work - Claudio Arrau on Philips from the 1970s(?).
Is that the recording that is included in the big Arrau Beethoven Philips box? If so, I have it and have not even listened to it I think  :-[

Offline Todd

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2008, 05:52:06 PM »
When it comes to the Diabellis, I often prefer a more interventionist approach.  I canít quite explain why, but when a pianist obviously tinkers around with the tempi (especially) and dynamics (less so), I often enjoy the results, though not always.  Perhaps thatís why unlike Holden I find Piotr Anderszewski very enjoyable.  Olli Mustonen is at least as interventionist, though he tends toward fast tempi and some repeat omissions, and I like him even more!  Geza Anda strips out every repeat, and brings the work in at under 40 minutes, but he infuses it with such energy and effective dynamic contrasts, that itís hard not to appreciate it on its own terms.  Even Anton Kuerti, whose sonata cycle Iím not too wild about, delivers a superb, highly individual (ie, idiosyncratic) take.  

But of course a more ďstraight-forwardĒ approach can yield enormous dividends.  Exhibit A here is Rudolf Serkin, whose recording is still probably my favorite.  Sure, the sound is dated and a pesky cricket plays along in the background, but Serkinís unwavering drive and energy and total command of the work hits the spot.  I can easily see how some would find his take too austere or hard, but I love it.  Sviatoslav Richterís 1986 Amsterdam recording manages to mix both individuality and directness in equal measure.  Should the at times lumbering tempi and playing work as well as they do?  No Ė but they do.  Similarly, Stephen Kovacevichís lauded recording delivers the goods in a similar approach (more similar to Serkin, that is).  

Other fine performances include Brendelís digital studio recording of the work (I havenít heard the other two), Mieczyslaw Horszowskiís take, and Robert Silvermanís hard-hitting, unsentimental take.

Were I to group them into categories, the top tier would include Serkin, Mustonen, and Richter.  The next rung down would include Kuerti, Anderszewski, Kovacevich, Anda, and Brendel.  After that some good ones would be Arrau, Horszowski, and Silverman.  

Less compelling recordings for me (for various reasons) include Schnabel, Ashkenazy, Heisser, Perl, Pludermacher, Pollini (good, but somehow disappointing), and Yokoyama (not up to snuff).  Iíve never quite got into the Diabellis as much as the sonatas, but Iím slowly trying to rectify that.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2008, 08:22:32 PM by Todd »
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sean

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2008, 07:11:27 PM »
This is a work I never bought a recording of and I got to know it from a taped recording I don't remember; I've heard a few great performances and the key thing I think is to get inside the work's extraordinary spirit of determination and ruthless triumph- it's a piece lending itself to masculine power and succeeds when the player finds an overall grip of the vast canvass. Along with Goldberg, and perhaps Strauss's Don Quixote it's the greatest set of variations.

Offline Brian

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2008, 07:38:03 PM »
Ugorski's is the worst recording of any piano piece I've ever heard.
Really now? Where can I find it? Since your piano recommendations are always so well-considered and often spot-on, I'd rather like to hear "the worst recording ever". Is it so bad I might derive a perverse pleasure from it, or ... is it just bad?

Along with Goldberg, and perhaps Strauss's Don Quixote it's the greatest set of variations.
Beethoven Op 111

Don

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2008, 09:16:40 PM »
When it comes to the Diabellis, I often prefer a more interventionist approach.  I canít quite explain why, but when a pianist obviously tinkers around with the tempi (especially) and dynamics (less so), I often enjoy the results, though not always.  Perhaps thatís why unlike Holden I find Piotr Anderszewski very enjoyable.  Olli Mustonen is at least as interventionist, though he tends toward fast tempi and some repeat omissions, and I like him even more!  


Anderszewski is my favorite.  I find Mustonen's lean textures very interesting.

Offline Wanderer

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2008, 10:48:29 PM »
This thread reminds me, I've been wanting to acquire Demidenko's recording for quite a long time. Anyone here heard it? Reviews have been most favourable.


Offline Holden

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2008, 12:51:59 AM »
Really now? Where can I find it? Since your piano recommendations are always so well-considered and often spot-on, I'd rather like to hear "the worst recording ever". Is it so bad I might derive a perverse pleasure from it, or ... is it just bad?
Beethoven Op 111

It's so bizarre that I wondered whether Ugorski had just escaped from a 'home for the bewildered'. Maybe I'm doing the man an injustice but it totally threw me.

Thanks also for the accolade - I didn't realise that my piano recommendations were well-considered so that's nice to hear. I try to think things out before I post but sometimes I just can't find the right language.
Cheers

Holden

Offline FideLeo

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2008, 02:31:51 AM »
Give me a fortepiano recording anyday!  Paul Komen comes to mind.  :)
HIP for all and all for HIP! Harpsichord for Bach, fortepiano for Beethoven and pianoforte for Brahms!

Offline Que

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2008, 03:30:07 AM »
Give me a fortepiano recording anyday!  Paul Komen comes to mind.  :)

Same here!  ;D



A very succesful performance. Purchase here (with sample) or here.

Other than that: fully agree with Holden on Artur Schnabel - legendary.

Q
ņ chacun son goŻt.

Offline The new erato

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2008, 06:20:38 AM »
I try to think things out before I post

Wow. But I guess it had to happen sooner or later.

My Diabelli experiences are limited to Bishop-Kovacevich and Andrzewski; guess I'm attracted to convoluted names.

Offline Todd

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2008, 06:37:59 AM »
Really now? Where can I find it?



Arkiv has it as part of their ArkivCD program.  They also have his Op 111, which stretches out to almost 40 minutes.  Perhaps that hints at why Holden has a low opinion of Ugorski's Diabellis.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Brian

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2008, 07:18:50 AM »


Arkiv has it as part of their ArkivCD program.  They also have his Op 111, which stretches out to almost 40 minutes.  Perhaps that hints at why Holden has a low opinion of Ugorski's Diabellis.
Oh dear! I always enjoy a little sampling of perverse music or downright awful film, but if the Op 111 runs to nearly 40 minutes ... methinks that the joke would get a little old after a while.  :P 

Offline B_cereus

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2008, 05:50:32 PM »
my vote unhesitatingly goes to Schnabel. His Diabelli was the best thing on his Philips Great Pianists edition.



Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2008, 06:38:01 PM »
Don't give me a fortepiano anyday! (Unless the fortepianist shows the musicality of the great pianists of the past.) I really dislike the Anderzewski, which makes each variation sound like a miniature tone poem and loses the overall continuity in its mannered fussiness. Kindermann tries hard, but lacks either the technique or the imaginative abandon for the piece to take off; his plodding recording does not match the indispensable scholarly book he produced on the Diabellis. Yudina plows through the work like a Soviet tractor, banging mercilessly and unmusically, but her version is worth keeping as a party CD - that is if I ever throw a party.

Of the ones I know from records, a dark horse is Stefan Vladar's fresh and invigorating performance. Another one I will keep is Charles Rosen's. In fact, of the three live performances I have heard in the past ten years, Rosen's (at age 75 or so) was the one that best captured the work's comic elements; people in the audiencewere literally laughing at some of his tricks of phrasing. Pollini in live performance was magisterial, but humorless. Peter Serkin was just dull.

"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Offline val

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #15 on: March 31, 2008, 01:40:12 AM »
I always preferred Brendel in this work. His first version for VOX was good, but the second (1970) for PHILIPS was the best. But I never found it on CD. The third version, also for PHILIPS is good but not as exceptional as the second.
One of the great qualities of Brendel's versions is that he gives a very coherent view of all the variations, with an ideal balance.

Serkin is much better in the last four or five variations, but his version sometimes seems almost didactic.

Bishop Kovacevitch would be my second choice, after Brendel.

Dino Ciani has moments of extraordinary inspiration but, as usual, doesn't seem to have a global perspective of the complete work.

Offline ragman1970

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #16 on: March 31, 2008, 02:12:23 AM »
This thread reminds me, I've been wanting to acquire Demidenko's recording for quite a long time. Anyone here heard it? Reviews have been most favourable.



yes, and the one from sokolov!

Offline FideLeo

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #17 on: March 31, 2008, 03:43:04 AM »
Don't give me a fortepiano anyday! (Unless the fortepianist shows the musicality of the great pianists of the past.)

Oh give me a fortepiano recording anyday!  And rest assured that Komen has more musicality to spare than your generic
"great pianist of the past"!  Those interested can check out Edmund Batterby's double (modern steinway vs. Graf fp) recording
on Naxos.  ;D
HIP for all and all for HIP! Harpsichord for Bach, fortepiano for Beethoven and pianoforte for Brahms!

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #18 on: March 31, 2008, 03:54:02 AM »
Oh give me a fortepiano recording anyday!  And rest assured that Komen has more musicality to spare than your generic
"great pianist of the past"!  Those interested can check out Edmund Batterby's double (modern steinway vs. Graf fp) recording
on Naxos.  ;D

Your comment does nothing to "rest me assured." And to call pianists like Schnabel, Serkin, Rosen, and who knows how many others "generic," only makes me think you're being a dogmatic HIPster who is more interested in the hardware than the interpretation.
"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

Don

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Re: Diabelli Variations
« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2008, 05:35:29 AM »
Oh give me a fortepiano recording anyday!  And rest assured that Komen has more musicality to spare than your generic
"great pianist of the past"!  Those interested can check out Edmund Batterby's double (modern steinway vs. Graf fp) recording
on Naxos.  ;D

I've never warmed to Batterby's performances.  Changing the instrument is okay - the problem is the pianist.

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