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  Sui Generis -
  Beethoven: Diabelli Variations - Marco Alcantara
  Beethoven: Diabelli Variations Op. 120

Marco Alcantara (piano)
Track listing:
  Classical - Instrumental
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 2

Review by FullRangeMan December 17, 2008 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Iam 50 and never see a CD or vinyl like this:
- 68m45s of masterful playing Diabelli in a great Steinway Hamburg model D,
- Beethoven's historic piano tuning,
- one of the bests SACD recordings I have,
- bilingual 173 pages booklet,
- 17 bonus tracks (8m30s) of Beethoven's sketches for the work,
- lots of photos and low price (in Brasil).
I do not know was so good young new classical pianists in my country. How this was made? Seems with DIY, the Pianist Marco Alcantara also was the producer, booklet English and Portuguese writer,
recorded at an Catholic University in Sao Paulo-Brasil in July2004. The booklet do not inform if the recording was PCM or DSD, I could figure it was DSD because the sound was very natural and spaced. Beethoven surely could smile with this SACD of his Diabelli Vars. If Amazon is out of stock see the site, they do not sell, but inform who are selling this item. Wishing a complete
box set of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas to follow up this nice release. Not bad for a first 001 release of this new Label. Iam hard to please, but have to give Five Stars to performance and recording(stereo).
There is no MultiCh mix.

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Review by Beagle February 10, 2010 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:

If you have the piano-tuner in to crank up the old Bechstein, be sure to count your change….

Marco Alcantara did an interesting thing with this disc: he seized upon the opportunity to work with Scott Kuhn of the Piano Technicians Guild, and thus present us with Beethoven’s Op. 120 in Thomas Young’s 1799 tempered tuning[1]. As Edward Foote says, “The piano is an untunable instrument”, due to a mathematical problem created by dividing an octave into twelve notes, most manifest to our ears in the all too common interval of Thirds. Young’s tuning leaves some keys, including Opus 120’s C-major, more mathematically resonant, although at the expense of other keys. So in theory Beethoven’s thirty-three Veränderungen benefit – at least until he modulates into an unfavoured key. The various well-tempered tunings were formulated in order to facilitate modulation between keys, and when one slips out of the favoured into the short-changed, the effect is experienced as “key colour” and can be exploited for artistic tension. Our contemporary system of tuning, Equal Temperament, is theoretically a democratic system where none are favoured, all are beige-coloured and nothing sounds quite right.

The mathematical incorrectness of notes is measured in hundreths of a tone called ‘cents’, hence my warning above. At first I wondered how Young in England could have influenced Beethoven in Wien; the answer perhaps lies with in the piano which manufacturer Broadwood sent as a gift to him around 1820. Was it tunings which impelled Beethoven to write ‘Rage for a Lost Penny’?

All of the above is rather academic, intellectually interesting but it does not guarantee an enjoyable musical experience. I confess I hadn’t noticed the difference in tuning until Alcantara’s thick booklet (book) drew it to my attention; perhaps the fact of my not noticing testifies to the marginal difference that the tuning makes. Alcantara’s rendition of Op. 120 is note-perfect and his scholarship is impressive. Unfortunately, Beethoven’s Diabellis are not theoretical edifices in the genre of Bach’s Goldbergs or other serious cycles. They are a Big Joke.

The very notion of writing variations on a theme from a publisher-wannabee must’ve made Ludwig snort in his beer. But what rankled was his inclusion in the company of youngsters like Franz Schubert and Karl Czerny[2] (and his brother Joe) plus a lot of names which don’t ring many bells: Drechsler, Gänsbacher, Horzalka, Kerzkowsky, Panny, Schoberlechner, Umlauff... and Beethoven’s own student, the royal amateur Rudolf of Austria. But the greatest insult of all, a mere child was added to the liszt[3].

Meister Ludwig might have created a work on the level of Bach’s Musical Offering – but he didn’t (that task was not to be wasted on a mere publisher’s pot-boiler but reserved for Op. 133). Ludwig’s Veränderungen[4] mock Diabelli and his entire scheme. He called the Theme a ‘swallow’s flight’ and a ‘shoemaker’s patch’ and when Diabelli himself asked him to contribute, the Master enquired ‘How many variations are there already?’. When told that there were thirty-two, he declared ‘Well, then I shall write thirty-three!’. Over time pianists have understood Ludwig’s sarcasm and bestowed suitable epithets upon the various pieces, e.g. “Little Bumblebee and Piano”, “Gladiator Flexing his Muscles”, “Tamed Goblin”, “Maniac and Moaner” and “The Mastadon and the Theme”.

As Alfred Brendel says (and Acantara quotes), “Despite their vast range of different emotions – serious, lyrical, mysterious and depressive, withdrawn and brilliantly extroverted – Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations reveal themselves to be a humorous work in the widest possible sense.” I have Brendel on a wonderful 1964 recording where the 31 year-old pianist leaps and romps through the thirty-three with unhinged genius that reduces me to happy giggles – revealing a masterwork of humour.

Despite the manic portrait of Ludwig on the booklet cover, I don’t hear much humour in Alcantara’s performance of these pieces. It feels as if the pianist is too much in awe of the composer to be playful. The tuning, the booklet, the unpublished sketches are interesting, but dammit, this disc leaves me yawning. I much prefer Beethoven: Diabelli Variations - Jan Michiels.

[2] Czerny’s fingerprints are all over the Diabellis. He was in early with the first variation and was privileged to write the summary Coda. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote the Theme itself.
[3] Czerny’s student Franz Liszt, aged 9 to 11 during the production of the publication.
[4] Beethoven uses the German word for ‘metamorphoses’ rather than the italianate ‘variationen’ applied to the pieces by the other 50 contributers.

PS: There is a Stradivarius violin named the Duke of Alcantara, after an obscure Spanish nobleman.

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Works: 1  

Ludwig van Beethoven - Diabelli Variations, Op. 120