Beethoven: Diabelli Variations


Andreas Staier (fortepiano) Harmonia Mundi HMC 902091****

Andreas Staier here offers a performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations as you’ve probably never heard them before. It’s not just that he’s using a fortepiano, a modern copy of an instrument by Conrad Graf. He prefaces Beethoven with a selection of 10 of the 50 variations originally commissioned by Viennese publisher Anton Diabelli, including those by Schubert, the teenage Liszt and Mozart’s composer son, Franz Xaver.

He then offers an “introduction” of his own to lead into the actual Beethoven. And, perhaps most controversially, he exploits some of the exceptional colours and extras of the particular instrument he has chosen: the hushed muting offered by the moderator, a slightly twangy bassoon effect, and a fizzing, thumping imitation of janissary percussion. Does the music need all of this? I think not. But, aside from the special effects, both playing and instrument are fascinating.