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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

Album Summary

>Beethoven, Ludwig van : Variations (33) for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli in C major, Op. 120
Performer Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"Lewis’s interpretation mixes high drama and poetic aplomb — characteristics of a serious musician, flexing his muscles...Faced with Diabelli’s theme, many pianists stay content with a relatively uninflected reading but Lewis colours the notes with romantic panache, the left-hand bass strongly emphasised, the right-hand fingering almost hurtling, as if he’s panting to get to the real meat, the 33 variations." -The Times

Beethoven's 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli was completed in 1823. Alfred Brendel has described it as, "the greatest of all piano works" and in his textbook Structural Functions of Harmony, Arnold Schoenberg writes that, "in respect of its harmony, it deserves to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven." The piece was composed after Diabelli, a well-known music publisher and composer, sent his waltz to all the important composers of the Austrian Empire, asking each of them to write a variation on it. His plan was to publish all the variations in an anthology to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars. Upon hearing Beethoven's submission, Diabelli proclaimed that it was, "a great and important masterpiece, worthy to be ranked with the imperishable creations of the old Classics and to occupy a place beside Sebastian Bach's famous masterpieces of the same type." On this eagerly anticipated release, Paul Lewis, protégé of Alfred Brendel, brings his sharp intellect and remarkable technique to bear on this towering masterwork of the period.

"The playing possesses all the dynamism and discretion, the insight and immediacy, that Lewis poured into that grand project of encompassing all 32 of the sonatas, and is essential listening...[Lewis] is a master of characterisation, pointing up Beethoven's inventiveness as well as his architectural acumen, and playing with palpable concentration and, in the slower variations, with sublime intensity." -The Telegraph*****

"Lewis tells us that the Diabellis are a set of variations like no other. He romps through the opening theme, Beethoven's 'sfz' left-hand asides articulated like raucous, tailgating trombones. Individual variations are masterfully controlled...but Lewis's concept of the whole - how Beethoven seeds ideas that blossom later - makes this performance especially cogent and satisfying." -Classic FM Magazine****

Sunday Times
Nothing in music is more exhilarating than a good performance of the Diabelli Variations, and this one is exceptionally good - torrential but controlled, and intensely lyrical. Never has Beethoven's monument to creative invention seemed less forbidding. In Lewis's hands, it gives the sense - despite all its intellectual mastery - of being like a gigantic piece of improvisation...The disc is a delight.

BBC Music Magazine
Lewis has the full measure of the work's epic scale, creating a real sense of cumulative growth as he navigates us through its extraordinary narrative...Unashamedly exploiting the warmth and power of the modern piano, Lewis marshals a wide dynamic range and employs a considerable variety of touch and timbre...[and] draws particular attention to the radical, almost modernistic nature of Beethoven's writing.

Of the many recordings that Beethoven's exquisite variations have enjoyed over the years, few are as rich in nuance, nimbleness and sheer musical acumen as Paul Lewis' already-celebrated reading, which must now count as definitive.

Irish Times
Paul Lewis has the fingers and mind to cope with Beethoven's undertaking, though he does so in a straight-spined way that emphasises earnestness at the expense of good humour and wit.

Classical Review
He is at his considerable best in those variants that promote grandeur, volatile outbursts, and depth of feeling...Lewis's performance is superbly recorded (in Berlin's Teldec Studio), the instrument captured with immediacy, the pianist's dynamic panache and variety of touch faithfully preserved.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Teldex Studio Berlin (12/2009).


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Works Details

>Beethoven, Ludwig van : Variations (33) for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli in C major, Op. 120
  • Performer: Paul Lewis (Piano)
  • Running Time: 45 min. 10 sec.
  • Period Time: Classical
  • Written: 1819