This disc of variations belies expectations lowered by the Hiller Variations.
The Mozart set uses a lullaby-like theme of considerable grace which keeps
threatening to turn into 'Rock A Bye Baby'. The third variation is a whispering
con moto and the fourth is notably jolly (again). No. 6 quasi
presto is surprisingly light-handed and unBrahmsian and all ends with
(surprise, surprise!) a Fugue of some charm. Once again the proceedings end
with two very substantial movements: 8.01 and 9.17.
The Beethoven Variations on this showing (and there is never any doubting
Stein and the Bambergers commitment throughout this series) the most enduring
of the variations and well worth getting to know. The theme is transformed
in the second variation into a striking Appassionato episode disturbed by
some raucous moments. Variation 4 is a flickering vivace. The Andante Sostenuto
is given the full romantic treatment and settles into a most impressive romantic
melos - a glorious dawn of a piece. The poco vivace suggests Beethoven meets
Brahms Third Symphony. Variation 8 plays out in sunlit contentment ending
in a very attractive contentment. A pity it didn't end there because the
succeeding (you've guessed it) fugue is not quite up to the same standard
although as music (and that is all that matters) it is the best of the concluding
fugues. The fugue has a tickling delicacy and its flashing woodwind reminded
me of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. It closes in regal grandeur.