Beethoven Diabelli Variations
This is the most intelligent, searching and sheerly delightful account of the Diabelli Variations to have reached us since Alfred Brendel’s. It gives opportunities everywhere to admire a superfine control of every aspect of piano playing, but that isn’t the great thing about it, splendid though the finish is. The performance is entirely composer-led, driven by the music, not by ideas – received or otherwise – about the music, and in that sense you hardly notice the means to the end at all. It is an account of the Diabelli based on a much closer reading of the text than one usually gets, and you have only to hear the theme and the first variation to perceive an exceptional balance of rigour and imagination: rigour in the way Anderszewski has thought about every inflection, local or long term, marked by Beethoven; imagination, evident here and throughout, in the quality with which he has realised them in terms of expression and vividness of character. His rhythm is tremendous. More remarkable still, I think, is his feeling for dynamics, so copiously prescribed in this work and yet treated with approximation by so many players. He is someone to make you aware, like the best conductors, of how integral the dynamic element is to the full life of the music in Beethoven. Aware too – in another neglected area – of how the precise length of notes and silences actually matters.
I risk making him sound only the dutiful servant. He is not one to play the daredevil, and one could say that his tempos in the quick numbers are sometimes surprisingly moderate; but he is not a sober sides. He is personable, as every interpreter of the Diabelli Variations needs to be; capricious too, but in ways which are thoughtful, reflective even, rather than volatile and more obviously startling. I follow him, delighted, in all this. He has fingers which are always saying something, a varied and attractive sound, usually built from the bass up, and that rare ability to get from one thing to another with pinpoint accuracy, expressively speaking, as if forging sonority and character with a laser.
He builds the larger shapes of the work interestingly and has some excellent ideas about how the variations should succeed each other. At times, though, I find his longer pauses puzzling – the one before the double fugue especially (between tracks 32 and 33) – and surely too long, often, for a CD; they might work in concert but I would say they show miscalculations here. And he does an odd final bar, at the very end of the work, out of time and with a pulled punch for the final chord, as if unable to accept that Beethoven had marked it forte. A fine recording, doing justice to the lightness of the playing as well as everything else, and the sound is at an apt distance. A pity that the liner-notes are a mess of pretentious potage a la francaise; no wonder they read oddly in English. But in all other respects an outstanding issue