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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Etc / Frith

Release Date: 02/21/2006 
Label:  Resonance Catalog #: 3058   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Benjamin Frith
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Diabelli Variations. Variations on an Original Theme in c ? Benjamin Frith (pn) ? RESONANCE RSN 3058 (61:32)

These Beethoven works were featured in the two finest piano recitals I was privileged to attend during the decade I lived in Boston (actually, in nearby Cambridge). On November 17, 1974 (I still have the concert program), Rudolf Serkin delivered the most revelatory account of the Diabelli Variations I?ve ever witnessed, and Symphony Hall was Read more packed to the rafters on that rainy Sunday afternoon. Serkin in person was a far greater colorist than any of his recordings would suggest, and hearing him perform this kaleidoscopic masterpiece was a thrill I?ll never forget. About two years later, I heard the then lesser-known Ivan Moravec play to a fare-thee-well the 32 Variations in C Minor . That was in the superb acoustics of Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music. Even back in those days, the Czech virtuoso displayed all the mastery of nuance and shading that single him out today as arguably the greatest living pianist.

Soon after hearing Serkin, I bought his 1957 recording of the Diabelli Variations on a Columbia Special Products LP (now on a Sony CD). While a good deal more percussive and dry-toned than what I heard live, that electrifying account achieves, like no other, what I most want to hear in Beethoven?s last major piano work: poignancy, humor, and drama in equal measure, with an over-arching unity that fuses the wondrously diverse moods into a transcendental whole. Serkin?s recording is by now so seared into my brain that when I hear any other version of Variation 31 (Largo, molto expressivo), I listen in vain for the persistent obbligato chirping of a Marlboro cricket (Serkin recorded it in Vermont). My other favorite Diabelli is the 1937 Arthur Schabel, which I have on Philips?s ?Great Pianists? and as part of a 14-CD Schnabel Beethoven set from Danté; the latter has slightly better sound. Schnabel is not as technically polished as Serkin, but he?s every bit as cohesive and even more subtle, otherworldly, and profound in the work?s inward moments (e.g., his Variation 21 Andante is simply beyond compare). As for Moravec, I already owned his matchless Variations in C Minor in demonstration quality sound on a Connoisseur Society LP, which has reappeared on a CD from VAI.

Of course, not everyone shares my predilection for the admittedly timeworn mono sound of Serkin or Schnabel in the Diabelli. So that brings us to this altogether splendid disc from British pianist Benjamin Frith. Recorded at Cambridge, England, in 1990 (it was formerly available as a CD from ASV), this sensitive, extremely well-played Diabelli is a genuine pleasure to experience. Of the dozen or so stereo accounts I?ve heard, this one strikes me as the new benchmark for varied characterization, effective pacing, and sheer perfection of detail. While not as brilliantly dramatic as Serkin or as deeply introspective as Schnabel, Frith creates an emotional framework that captures the vast scope of this work in convincing fashion, with none of Serkin?s occasional clangor or Schnabel?s very infrequent finger slips. And save for the classic recording by Moravec, I haven?t heard a more engaging Variations in C Minor than this one from Frith. The annotations by Bryce Morrison are excellent, and the sound is definitely first-class. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jeffrey J. Lipscomb
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Works on This Recording

Variations (33) for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli in C major, Op. 120 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Benjamin Frith (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1819-1823; Vienna, Austria 
Variations (32) for Piano in C minor on an Original Theme, WoO 80 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Benjamin Frith (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 

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