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Beethoven: 33 Variations On A Waltz By Anton Diabelli In C Major, Op. 120 / Beth Levin

Beethoven / Levin
Release Date: 06/28/2011 
Label:  Centaur Records   Catalog #: 3046  
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Beth Levin
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEETHOVEN Diabelli Variations Beth Levin (pn) CENTAUR 902071 (60:38)


It was just in the last issue that I reviewed Paul Lewis’s fine account of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations , and I notice here in Beth Levin’s traversal of the theme and 33 variations a fairly significant discrepancy in the timing—60:38 vs. 52:46 for Lewis. That’s almost eight minutes slower (7:52, to be exact), or a difference of six percent. What could account for this disparity? Read more


Most of the variations have both their first and second halves repeated. Occasionally, as in variation 2, a repeat is indicated only for the second half, while in variation 5, a repeat is indicated only for the first half. Then there are variations like 10 and 12 with no repeats in either half. Both Lewis and Levin observe Beethoven’s instructions. So, the difference in timings must lie elsewhere.


To unravel the mystery, I interrogated two other recordings of the piece I have—Alfred Brendel’s 1988 Philips account and Maurizio Pollini’s 1998 Deutsche Grammophon performance. Both are closer to Lewis than they are to Levin. In fact, at 50:08, Pollini shaves 2:38 off of Lewis’s 52:46. Not surprisingly, Lewis, who studied with Brendel, lags behind his teacher’s 52:36 by only 10 seconds.


A consensus begins to emerge. Performances of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations seem to average around 51:50. Obviously, if I used a larger sampling of recordings, this number could be skewed to the fast or slow side by one or another extreme case. I did not, for example, plug Levin’s timing into this calculation. When I do, the average goes up to around 54 minutes.


The reason for all these computations is that until I received Levin’s CD for review, I wasn’t familiar with the pianist. So I wanted to see if what Peter Burwasser said about her Goldberg Variations in Fanfare 32:3 panned out. “Tempos are deliberate,” he noted, “sometimes to the extreme.” I wouldn’t characterize Levin’s tempo in any given variation as extreme, but over the course of nearly an hour, her unhurried approach does have a cumulative effect. Ten seconds here, 15 there, and before you know it, it adds up to minutes, nearly eight of them in fact.


This by no means puts Levin’s Diabelli out of court. What I liked about Lewis’s reading was his avoidance of the “this is a great and solemn work” syndrome. Great it may be, but there’s nothing solemn about it. Much of the work is Beethoven in slapstick mode, and Lewis, like Brendel, was willing to play the March Hare to Beethoven’s Mad Hatter.


Levin’s more leisurely gambol is more like Alice’s attempt to make logical sense of her surroundings and predicament and, in so doing, she gains insight into the better natures and motivations of the story’s characters—i.e., variations—and ultimately into her own strengths and weaknesses.


Levin is a student of Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Shure, and Dorothy Taubman. Unfortunately, I don’t have Serkin’s 1957 Marlboro Diabelli , but with a little research, I was able to ascertain that his timing for that performance is 50:55, which is a bit slower than Pollini’s but faster than either Brendel’s or Lewis’s. Unlike Lewis, however, who obviously remained close to his teacher, Levin departs quite dramatically from hers. Her choices, however, are strictly interpretive and in no way a reflection of a deficit in technique. Born in 1950, she still enjoys an active career, though a very slim discography suggests she’s not been very active in the recording studio. This plus her abovementioned Bach Goldberg Variations and a mixed recital of Schubert, Liszt, Moszkowksi, and others are the only three CDs I find listed for her.


Levin’s Diabelli is well played and, given that she presents the work from a different and personal perspective that is very much her own, I’m comfortable recommending this release, recorded in 2009 at Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, not necessarily as a first and only choice for this late Beethoven opus, but definitely as a complementary version to others you may already have.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Variations (33) for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli in C major, Op. 120 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Beth Levin (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1819-1823; Vienna, Austria 

Sound Samples

33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Theme: Vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 1: Alla Marcia, maestoso
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 2: Poco allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 3: L'istesso tempo
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 4: Un poco piu vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 5: Allegro vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 6: Allegro ma non troppo e serioso
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 7: Un poco piu allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 8: Poco vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 9: Allegro pesante e risoluto
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 10: Presto
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 11: Allegretto
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 12: Un poco piu mosso
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 13: Vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 14: Grave e maestoso
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 15: Presto scherzando
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 16: Allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 17: (Allegro)
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 18: Poco moderato
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 19: Presto
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 20: Andante
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 21: Allegro con brio
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 22: Allegro molto
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 23: Allegro assai
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 24: Fughetta - Andante
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 25: Allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 26: (Piacevole)
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 27: Vivace
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 28: Allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 29: Adagio ma non troppo
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 30: Andante, sempre cantabile
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 31: Largo, molto espressivo
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 32: Fuga - Allegro
33 Variations in C major on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, "Diabelli Variations": Variation 33: Tempo di Menuetto, moderato

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