Creative Stuff

The Diabelli Variations

There are times when genius is sustained by its failures. The most original works of art are not always the most successful: genius implies a certain immoderation which is alien to perfection. Consider, for instance, Beethoven’s last string quartets, the excesses of the finale of the Ninth Symphony or the Hammerklavier with the rather indigestible magnificence of its fugue: these were the masterpieces that opened on hitherto unheard perspectives, as precipitous as they are abstruse. The Diabelli Variations seem to me to be in the same bracket; they can hardly be said to be among what one would call the great and ‘perfect successes’ in the history of music, nor, for that matter, in Beethoven’s own creation. More temperate, more balanced, his earlier works are no doubt better examples of such achievements. And yet, like the Goldberg Variations or The Art of the Fugue, on one point the cycle of the Diabelli Variations gives neither its detractors nor its admirers cause for quarrel: it bears the stamp of genius. However, genius is very often not so much an entertainer as a spoil-sport that, quite the opposite to talent, poses more problems than it solves. How, among others, does one resolve the problem of the ‘Fantasy and Fugue’ (variations 31 and 32) which, maundering, straying beyond time, beyond Chopin and Bach, is both part of the cycle and ‘falls out’ of it? How, thanks to a few vacillating chords that break in to interrupt the fugue, does one simultaneously retrieve a thread that was lost long ago – at the end of the thirtieth variation – and the one (the thirty-third) that will lead to the conclusion: a dissolution in the beatitude of expanded time, a sort of Arietta without the support of trills?

Andrei Vieru

[Vieru] really has something to say.
His playing is authoritative yet quite individual – almost soft-spoken. In XV grave e maestoso there’s luminous lit with sudden white shafts of sound. The Fuga is rigorous but never hectoring, or coldly intellectualised; nothing is missed.

He’s not wholly unlike fellow Rumanian Radu Lupu, with beautiful sound and elegance of style. Without denying the listener, he presents the logic of these pieces with a certain objectivity. The eleven Bagatelles are carefully worked out in tempo relationships to lend them unity, and dynamic markings are scrupulously observed, even if the rubato can be quite marked. The sound ranges from good to magnificent, and I strongly recommend this coupling.

Hi-Fi News & Record Review

These are warm, full-bodied readings that easily navigate Beethoven’s imaginative Diaspora. Ideas proliferate. Each variation assumes a character all its own. He finds the ideal tempo, too, for Diabelli’s bumptious little theme that Beethoven transforms and indicts, in less than an hour, as an emblem of the status quo… Witness, too, Vieru’s ruminative, even melancholy manipulation of the serpentine melisma in XXXI that so poignantly expresses Beethoven’s philosophical ambivalence: the bourgeois banality of Diabelli’s initial statement is at last transfigured into spriritual exaltation. Mr. Vieru shares an unusually rich, bronze sound, a creamy legato and a plentiful pianissimo made of velvet.

American Record Guide

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