In 1819 Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), composer and publisher, wrote a ditty for piano in the form of a Waltz. He asked numerous composers, not least fellow-Austrians, to write a single Variation on it, each to be collected in a grand publication. He had fifty-odd singular responses but had to wait for Beethoven who eventually sent him thirty-three commentaries. His Diabelli Variations is (can be) a colossally compelling continuum that Rudolf Buchbinder drives through in an explosive forty-eight minutes, unprecedented in my experience in terms of shortness (repeats observed), and as admirable as it is in terms of technique and gruff/spontaneous wholeness, I wouldn’t want to be without recent versions from Imogen Cooper (fifty-nine minutes) and, in particular, Martin Helmchen (fifty-five); but when Buchbinder yields and breathes there is much to admire as a riposte to his (mostly) fierce rapid-fire declamation elsewhere.
Also included are some (eight) Diabelli-isms from LvB’s contemporaries, including Mozart’s son, Schubert, Hummel & Liszt, and “New Diabelli Variations”, eleven in all, invited by Buchbinder from Lera Auerbach, Brett Dean, Philippe Manoury, Rodion Shchedrin, Jörg Widmann, et al. From whichever era, each of these nineteen Waltz-inspired pieces is worth a listen (to various degrees). Everything here is recorded explicitly on Deutsche Grammophon 483 7707 (2 CDs).
Back in the day, the early 1970s, Buchbinder it was who got Telefunken to release the first integral recording of the complete variations commissioned by Diabelli, nearly 90 tracks in all – a pioneering project placing the “33” in the context and dross of their time. He’s lived with this waltz and music all his life.
Why doesn’t Buchbinder ask 33 living composers for a variation each on this theme? Especially in this of all years whilst they are self-isolating at home.