This disc is part
of a new series of lower mid-price repackagings of previous
best sellers from the EMI/ Virgin stable. The Penguin and Gramophone
Guides are quoted on the front, giving weight to the general
buyer of the high critical opinion of the original releases.
This Diabelli Variations
from the immensely gifted Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski
was certainly heaped with praise on its first issue. It’s interesting
to note that it was during a semi-final of the 1990 Leeds Competition
- that included the Diabellis - that Anderszewski achieved a
certain fame, or notoriety, for walking off the platform in
apparent disgust at his performance. Critics at the time were
nonplussed, but many were in agreement that the quality of the
playing throughout those rounds had already assured him of an
international career, and so it has proved.
We’re not exactly
short of excellent Diabellis, both old and new, with Brendel,
Kovacevich, Frith and a new Ashkenazy all well thought of among
modern versions. This is my first acquaintance with the Anderszewski
and thrilling indeed it is. I have Mozart and Szymanowski discs
from him so had an inkling what to expect. He has a volatility,
passion and searching intelligence that are perfectly suited
to Beethoven’s multi-faceted masterpiece. The odd dissenting
voice found him a little serious and straight-faced, but I only
hear unforced, natural phrasing and complete adherence to the
score. There is humour where it’s needed, as in the Don Giovanni
variation (22) but this is more about realizing the scope and
contrast within the huge structure. The attention to dynamics
and detail is incredible (try 24) but he never loses sight of
the bigger picture. There is clarity, poise and energy in equal
measure, so much so that it’s hard to keep pointing to individual
variations – much better to enjoy the cumulative whole.
The recording is very
good, quite resonant and with the piano at a suitable distance.
It was apparently made as part of a film – which I haven’t seen
– by veteran documentary maker Bruno Monsaingeon called simply
‘Piotr Anderszewski plays the Diabelli Variations’: simple and
very much to the point, as much of the playing admirably is. This
is Beethoven first, artist second, and even if you have other
versions, one recording of the Diabellis can never be enough.
Treat yourself and enjoy a pianistic feast.