- Variations (33) on a waltz by Diabelli, for piano in C major ("Diabelli Variations"), Op. 120
Ludwig van Beethoven's "Diabelli Variations, Op. 120" were composed in response to a venture by the Viennese music publisher and composer Anton Diabelli, whose waltz theme provided the basis of the two-volume collection Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. Fifty variations by other composers were published as Book II, while Book I comprised Beethoven's imposing set of 33 variations, universally regarded as one of his greatest achievements of his late period, and arguably his greatest work for piano. Martin Helmchen's 2017 release on Alpha offers a spirited and fully engaged interpretation, as notable for its humor and energy as it is for its eloquence and expressive depth. For the most part, Helmchen plays with a light tone and great agility in even the most difficult passages, so the music at times feels almost as gleefully comical as Diabelli's tune, at least until the 14th variation, which indicates Beethoven's seriousness of purpose. As Helmchen notes, this is a work of extremes, and the music runs the gamut of Beethoven's expressions, and even goes beyond, invoking Mozart's playfulness in the 22nd variation and sublime, Bach-like counterpoint in the 24th variation. Helmchen gives the "Diabelli Variations" a comprehensive treatment that is intellectually and emotionally satisfying, and the recorded sound is clear and detailed, with minimal ambient resonance.