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Katharine May
May 2006

Beethoven's first reaction to Diabelli's waltz theme that was to form the basis of his 33 Variations Op 120, was that it was 'a cobbler's patch'. However, he later recon­sidered the request, initially for just one variation to be published with 49 others from different composers. Working on what was to be his last great piano composition from 1819, the finished product -lasting some 50 minutes - was published in Vienna in 1823. Described by schol­ars as a transcendental journey and a testament to Beethoven's spiri­tuality, the American pianist Edmund Battersby presents two versions of this monumental work, performing one on a model D Stein­way, and the other on a replica of a six-and-a-half octave instrument made in the 1820s by the Viennese builder Conrad Graf. Beethoven himself owned a Graf piano (now restored in the Beethovenhaus in Bonn), and despite the wooden frame and Viennese action, the dynamic range was an immense improvement on the pianos of the time. Indeed, Battersby's instru­ment on this recording (built in 1997 by R J Regier) is really love­ly; possessing a clear, warm, well ­rounded tone and - for my taste ­adding more character and colour to the variations. These are enjoy­able recordings and Battersby gives mature, well-paced performances.

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