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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Variations

  • "Eroica" Variations Op. 35 (1802)
  • Variations on an Original Theme in F Major, Op. 34 (1802)
  • Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO. 80 (1806)
Glenn Gould, piano
CBS Masterworks Portrait MPK45879 ADD Time: 53:30
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This is an outstanding release. It brings together on one disc the only other worthwhile sets of variations, outside of the "Diabelli," that Beethoven wrote. Gould played the "Diabelli" in recital several times but never got around to recording it. Though these works aren't as imposing in structure - the longest, "Eroica," runs 28 minutes - this is mature Beethoven.

Unlike John O'Conor, with Glenn Gould I know almost immediately what I like or dislike about his playing. Gould's subject statements are harshly articulated at times; if he would just back off and permit some space between the notes! On the other hand, he does allow some flexion in his phrasing, dare I say it, rubato ? The first variation on the "Original Theme" is sheer confection, capped with a lofty trill. There is more brilliance in the minor mode contortions of the melody, where the left and right hands take turns sounding the melody over thundering chords.

Beethoven wrote the "Eroica" variations in 1802 on the heels of "The Creatures of Prometheus." The theme was recycled once more for the "Eroica" Symphony #3 (1804). The melody is worked out exhaustively in the piano version, culminating in a largo fugue. It won't replace the symphony, but it's an impressive outline.

Mostly fabulous pianism from Gould. The C minor variations are a recital favorite, compressing 32 discrete ideas into something like 13 minutes. The piano sound is quite good. At midprice, this is tasty fare.

Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan, Jr.