- Variations (32) on a waltz by Diabelli, for piano in C major ("Diabelli Variations"), Op. 120
Maurizio Pollini presented his impressive credentials as a Beethovenian back in 1978 with a stunning set of the late piano sonatas (recently reissued on DG's Originals series). It took another two decades, but Pollini has finally recorded Beethoven's other late masterpiece for the piano: the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120. It was worth the wait. This is a long and treacherous piece: Each variation is so characterful that it's tempting to play them as a series of fanciful miniatures rather than a unified whole. But Pollini achieves a feeling of inevitability, a sense that each variation leads inexorably to the next. And yet, there's an abundance of detail to savor, too: the giddy excitement of Variation 5, the much-ado-about-nothing clangor of Variation 13, the cryptic calm of Variation 20, the sheer virtuosic perfection of Variation 20, the intensely expressive melodic contortions of Variation 31, and the unruffled but heartrending grace of the final variation. Pollini is clearly possessed by the music from start to finish; you can occasionally even hear him humming along, à la Glenn Gould. All in all, this is a major accomplishment -- joining the ranks of classic recordings by Alfred Brendel, Stephen Kovacevich, Artur Schnabel, and Rudolf Serkin -- and the most important addition to Pollini's discography in many years.