Andreas Staier prefaces Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations with an overture of sorts. He opens this release with Anton Diabelli’s C major waltz, followed by eight delightful, contrasting variations on the waltz by composers whom Diabelli invited to contribute one variation apiece for the original benefit anthology. Next, Staier improvises a Beethoven-like interlude that leads right into the most stimulating period-instrument Diabelli Variations recording on the market as of spring 2012. Staier’s unerring tempo relationships, angular phrasing, strong sense of drama, stinging accents, and grand cumulative sweep add up to an interpretation that is painstakingly detailed without sacrificing the music’sRead more grand design. Every note comes alive with meaning and purpose, including Staier’s spontaneous flourishes and whimsical changes of voicing on the repeats.
Right away you’ll notice the variety of nuances and articulations that flavor Staier’s suave and steady dispatch of Variation 2’s chords alternating between the hands. His flexible and buoyant response to Variation 4’s Poco più vivace directive leaves Gary Cooper’s relatively earthbound reading at the starting gate, while Cooper’s uneventful repeated-note phrases in Variation 5 fall short of Staier’s rhythmic verve. Staier nails Variation 9’s often vaguely articulated accents, and shapes Variation 10’s dynamic surges and fast chords so that they playfully float over the bar lines.
Staier gauges Variation 13’s silences with the timing of a great comedian. He also takes advantage of his Graf instrument’s built-in percussion stops—discreetly so in Variation 22 (the parody on Mozart’s “Notte e giorno faticar” from Don Giovanni), but the cymbal crash underlining Variation 23’s big chords blatantly distracts from the scampering runs that follow. True, it’s fun to hear, but some listeners may take offense.
However, Staier compensates in the concluding minor-key variations with some of his most tastefully eloquent and vocally informed keyboard work on disc. While I wager that Ronald Brautigam’s forthcoming fortepiano Diabelli Variations may offer serious competition, Staier’s thoroughly engaging and vibrant musicianship warrant no less than our highest rating.