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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Diabelli Variations Op.120 (1823) [63:10]
Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
rec. Auditorio Stelio Molo, RTSI, Lugano, Switzerland, 29 July-3 August 2000
Originally on Virgin Classics
EMI CLASSICS 50999 5 03406-2 [63:10]

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.

Tony Haywood


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