Notes and Editorial Reviews
Laurent Cabasso (pn)
NAÏVE V 5282 (74:25)
Laurent Cabasso, whose previous recordings are unfamiliar to me, has taken on what is perhaps the greatest challenge in the piano literature, Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz by Antonio Diabelli. In so doing, he joins a long line of recorded master
pianists, among them Artur Schnabel, Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau, Maurizio Pollini, Alfred Brendel, and Daniel Barenboim.
The programming of this disc provides a glimpse into Cabasso’s profound thinking concerning musical matters. He has long been fascinated by Beethoven’s
, in C Major (except for three successive C-Minor variations: 29, 30, and 31), and by its uniqueness and its place in musical development, and he has found that Schubert’s exactly contemporary
Fantasy, also in C Major and also unique to the composer, are logical discmates. To close the circle, Cabasso includes Schubert’s response—a brief but hauntingly beautiful variation in C Minor—to Diabelli’s challenge to the important composers of the day to write a variation on his waltz. As the circle closes, the contrast between Beethoven’s long and monumental response and Schubert’s brief and haunting response leave me with a deeper understanding of another variation associated with music—that controlled by such physical factors as time, place, mood, and disposition of the listener. Schubert’s response can at times be more appropriate to a listener’s needs than can Beethoven’s response.
Cabasso generally avoids inserting his personality into the
to display the uniqueness of each variation. He leaves such uniqueness to Beethoven as a task already done. Cabasso’s role is as facilitator, presenting each variation in its unique style, and as unifier, integrating the diverse styles that Beethoven surveys. This approach is different from those of Claudio Arrau or Alfred Brendel, and even from that of Artur Schnabel. Schnabel notably injects his interpretive response into the music in part B of Variation 9 (
Allegro pesante e risoluto
) by treating Beethoven’s
with a slight
with an insightful effect. Cabasso is more restrained in his use of dynamic and tempo contrasts, whereas Arrau is freer in such usage, but Cabasso is never bland (and Arrau is never flamboyant). Cabasso’s clarity of inner part detail and his almost unfailing ability to let the listener hear the theme as it lurks in these variational complexities make this a rewarding traversal for the listener. At the start, the waltz—played
(as indicated) at a tempo faster than a conventional leisurely waltz—is as banal as many a waltz tune often is.
As Cabasso proceeds to unfold Beethoven’s 33 examples of transformation of the banal to the otherworldly, he reveals the composer’s intent without intrusion. The stately opening
Alla marcia maestoso
variation is effectively contrasted to its banal waltz-theme predecessor. In Variation 3, Cabasso uses phrase shaping to evince the lilting line. Beethoven’s use of tonal instability in several of these variations first appears in part B of
Un poco più allegro
(Var. 7), where Cabasso allows the instability to be fully experienced. The
Grave e maestoso
(Var. 14) has a quiet majesty compared to the majestic display of the opening
, but only if the double-dotted eighth plus sixth/quarter-note sequences are always conjoined with a smooth legato, which Cabasso admirably manages. Variation 20,
, has been notably played too slowly to maintain continuity of line (i.e., by my hero in these matters, Artur Schnabel), but Cabasso rises to the occasion, resulting in a musical span of contemplative repose. The
Notte e giorno faticar
variation brings on visions of the complaining Leporello. The ensuing
rushes ahead, scampering to the
(Var. 24). Here, Cabasso does not let it escape us that this is familiar territory, reminiscent of the fourth-movement fugue of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata at the D-Major
sempre dolce cantabile (una corda)
beginning at bar 240. Cabasso does not permit the theme to get lost in the tonal instabilities of Variations 27 and 28. He continues his triumphant ascent in Variation 31 (
Largo, molto espressivo
), where the inspiration for this variation is found in the
of the “Hammerklavier” at bar 28 (
con grande espressione
), bar 29 (
sempre molto liberamente
), and bar 33.
Fantasy is a four-movement sonata-like piece beginning with an
Allegro con fuoco
in C Major, followed by an
in C?-Minor, then a
in A?-Major, and concluding with an
that returns to C Major. This is a virtuoso piece, the only one that Schubert wrote for the piano. But as such it is not short on substance—a deficiency that usually typifies virtuoso music. To the contrary, it is loaded with characteristically Schubertian melody, and it has an uncharacteristically (for Schubert) tight structure. Cabasso does justice to every aspect of this music, leading the listener to replay, without delay, the 21-minute piece for another round.
Under the assumption that the single greatest of all keyboard works (dissentions are respected) should be represented in one’s collection by all performances that provide new and valid insights, this disc is highly recommended. Inclusion of the Schubert pieces provides an additional reason for having this disc.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
Works on This Recording
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