FRANZ HUMMEL - Diabelli Variations

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FRANZ HUMMEL - Diabelli Variations - Angela Cholakian (Piano) - 4250702800439 - Released: November 2014 - TYXart TXA14043

Franz Hummel (b1939) is the first composer since Beethoven to use Anton Diabelli's famous theme as the basis for such an extensive piano work. These variations are like a humorous, tongue-in-cheek chronicle of music, and some stylistic quotations challenge the listener, as in a musical quiz, to guess who could possibly have written which variation. {TYXart}

Despite the fact that he composed many guitar pieces, piano pieces and a few vocal works, in his day Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) was better known as a music publisher. One day he stumbled upon an idea that he believed would be a money-maker. He enlisted the aid of many famous composers to write variations on a simple waltz he had written, that would be published as an anthology under the heading of "Patriotic Artists' Association". In the end, 51 composers, including Schubert, Czerny, Moscheles, Liszt, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart and Beethoven, to name but a handful, submitted one variation each, except Beethoven who submitted 33. And we all know that his set of variations took on a life of its own, and became one of Beethoven's most admired compositions.

There is one recording on the market, listed here, that includes most of the variations by these composers.

All of this begs the question: Why would Franz Hummel, a 20/21st century composer take on the challenge, or even dare, to compose his own set of 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli? Didn't Beethoven say all there was to say on the matter and therefore have the final word on the subject? Apparently not ... you see, Beethoven and Diabelli were contemporaries. Therefore Beethoven's variations were composed in the same style as the theme they are based on. It goes without saying that Beethoven greatly expanded on Diabelli's simple idea, but he was still shackled by the musical language and style of his day. Now what Franz Hummel has done, in a diabolically clever way, is to enlist his own group of famous composers to write, in a subliminal way of course, new variations by combining their style of writing to his own. The possibilities are endless. All variations were composed by Hummel, but employing the style and technique of various composers, at times very obvious, and at times barely recognizable. For example - but to avoid spoiling the fun you may have trying to decipher them by yourself I will not point out the variation's number - some of those composers are Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Scriabin. I am still hard at work trying to guess the other ones. Each and everyone of them is a fascinating listening experience, not only as a guessing game, but also to hear how Hummel manipulated each composer's style to fit and blend so seamlessly within his own compositional style and technique.

Most of these variations are technically challenging and musically complex, but in what I believe to be her first recording, Russian pianist Angela Cholakian immediately commands attention by her unflinching technique and uncompromising mastery of the music at hand. Her expressive playing always suits the style, and even adds to the character, of each and every different variation. The booklet notes indicate that she seems to be a worthy successor to the art of such pianists as Gilels and Richter. I believe a correction is in order. The word "is" should replace "seems to be" in my opinion.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2014