As a quick addendum to my previous post on the Diabelli variations, when I opened the latest issue of the French magazine Classica on my iPad today (a bit late, it came out several days ago), I was pleased to discover that they dedicated their monthly blind test column, where their review staff compare 8 versions of a given oeuvre blindly, and ranks them, to just this work.
Classica – l’écoute en aveugle (the blind test)
I usually have a large overlap in taste with Classica, so I was a bit surprised to see none of my two recommended recordings even mentioned. But then I read it in the text, “les pianofortes atteignent leur limited“, the fortepianos reach their limits. Interesting, so Beethoven composed something that couldn’t have been played on the instrument he was used to. To be fair he was deaf at that time, but this is still an interesting conclusion. But ok, let’s see where they take it from here.
Well, their recording that is leading the pack is a recent recording on the label Naive played by the French pianist Laurent Cabasso.
Well, the French press, very much like the English, has a certain patriotic tendency in their reviews. But remember, this is a BLIND test, so let’s assume they haven’t cheated. I obviously had to listen to it immediately, and luckily my streaming provider, Qobuz, has the album available.
Don’t forget Richter
My conclusion remains the same, I’m personally much more touched by the fortepiano versions than by this admittedly very good, but not outstanding recording (4 star on my personal rating scale). So if you prefer a modern piano, you may want to check this version out. But if you do, also compare it to the much more extremist (in a positive sense) Sviatoslav Richter (FYI, no. 5 in the Classica ranking). Otherwise, Schiff and Staier are a must on your playlist.
P.S. Gramophone has done a similar comparison in their August 2015 edition, you’ll find a summary here.
4 thoughts on “An addendum to Diabelli – the point of view of Classica Magazine in a blind test”
I think your choice Is being very restrictive regarding “modern ” piano versions.
Why don’t you mention Piotr Anderjevzky, imho a serious competitor, and, of course, Alfred Brendel, a must-have in a Beethoven collection.
I don’t share your enthousiasm for the fortepiano sound regardless of the performers qualities.
This Is of course a matter of personal taste, but honestly , aside from curiosity and archeological Interest, these historical instruments sound really “thin”, and harmonically limited compared to.a modern Steinway (i don’t mind Bösendorfers’ or Faziolis’ if these ones have your preference.
They don’t do justice to a masterpiece like the Diabelli.As you pointed out, Beethoven was completely deaf by the time of their composition, and we also know he constantly complained about his pianos’ imperfections ( I assume he was referring to the mechanical aspect…).
The fortepiano was obviously a transitional instrument, bringing expressive improvements over the harpsichord, still the fact is we don’t currently play the fortepiano nowadays,but the modern piano, as we play the modern cello instead of the arpeggione.
Juste my 2 cents.
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Philippe, I really appreciate your thoughts.
Indeed, it would be very interesting to see what Beethoven would have done if he had access to a modern piano. That said, to me the Fortepiano is a completely different world worth exploring.
In any case I fully agree on Brendel. I haven’t heard Anderjevzky, but will check it out.
My currently preferred alternative on a modern Steinway is the recent recording by Igor Levit, by the way: https://musicophilesblog.com/2015/10/11/igor-levit-attacks-goldberg-and-diabelli-wow/