Magazine article Gramophone

Forty Years Separate Demus's 'Period' Diabellis and Pienaar's Modern Set

Magazine article Gramophone

Forty Years Separate Demus's 'Period' Diabellis and Pienaar's Modern Set

Article excerpt

Beethoven [R]

Diabelli Variations, Op 120, plus variations by Assmayer, Bocklet, Czapek, C & J Czerny, Dreschler, Freystadtler, Gansbacher, Gelinek, Halm, J Hoffmann, Horzalka, Huglmann, Hummel Kalkbrenner, Kerzkowsky, Kreutzer, Lannoy, Leidesdorf, Liszt, Moscheles, WA Mozart Jnr, Rieger, Roser, Schubert, Stadler, Szalay, Tomasek, Winkhler, Vitasek and Vorisek

Jorg Demus pf

Eloquence (S) (2) 480 3303 (101' * ADD)

Recorded 1971


Diabelli Variations, Op 120. Six Bagatelles, Op 126

Daniel-Ben Pienaar pf

Avie (F) AV2260 (68' * DDD)

Eloquence presents the first CD publication of a 1971 two-LP set originally issued in DG's Archiv series, featuring Jorg Demus on period instruments playing 32 out of the 50 variations Anton Diabelli commissioned from various composers for his famous anthology, along with Beethoven's 33 Variations, Op 120. Demus's non-Beethoven selections were based both on musical quality and the need to contain the music within the limits of a single LP (a few years later Rudolf Buchbinder became the first to record the Diabelli collection complete). In general, Demus chose well. Some of the strongest pieces include Kalkbrenner's quasi-Schubertian harmonic pointing, the real Schubert's gorgeous minor-key contribution, interesting metrical displacements from Jacob Freystadtler plus a complex, sophisticated coda by Carl Czerny.

While the 1839 Graf instrument used for the Beethoven work gives an idea of what the composer's last piano might have sounded like, Demus's pianism hits and misses. The maestoso Var 1marches with a stiff, lumbering leg, No 6's trills are not consistently controlled, while less than nimble timing undermines the humour that binds No 13's dotted rhythms, wide dynamic extremes and silences. Nor do the virtuoso demands of Nos 15, 16 and 17 match Andreas Staier's effortless power, although Demus dazzlingly sails through No 23's 'BANG...scamper scamper scamper scamper' patterns and brings admirable ebb and flow to No 31's lyrical arabesques.

If you view the Diabelli Variations as a virtuoso vehicle rather than a large-scale Beethoven drama, then consider Daniel-Ben Pienaar's facile, often glib, sometimes fussy interpretation. Right off the bat he slows down the main theme's tempo in the second eight bars, plays No 2's alternating chords unevenly, sometimes rounds off No 6's trumpeting trills, while No 10's presto tempo runs away from him, in contrast to Stephen Kovacevich's comparable yet far steadier excitement. …

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