Monday 17 August 2015

Diabelli Variations from Nick van Bloss

Nick van Bloss - Diabelli Variations
Beethoven Diabelli Variations; Nick van Bloss; Nimbus Allaince
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 31 2015
Beethoven's magisterial variations in a compelling performance from the British pianist

In his interview with Stephen Pettit in the CD booklet for this new recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, pianist Nick van Bloss talks about how initially he had been turned off the piece and only came back to it after living with Bach's Goldberg Variations for some time. This disc is the result of Nick van Bloss's exploration of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations recorded on the Nimbus Alliance label, and paired with Beethoven's Appassionata sonata.

Beethoven's Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli were started in 1819 but took four years to complete. Beethoven was approached by Diabelli, a publisher, to provide a variations on a waltz which Diabelli had written for inclusion in a composite volume. Composer's such as Liszt and Schubert responded but the story goes that Beethoven replied dismissively. In fact this seems to be just that, a story, as Beethoven did respond but his intention was to write a set of variations. Something in the trivial waltz must have appealed because he ended up writing 33 variations, a considerable expansion on the plan for half a dozen,, and Diabelli did eventually publish the work!

Nick van Bloss
London born Nick van Bloss (born 1967) does not have what might be termed a traditional relationship with the piano. He started at a relatively late age, but was learning full time at the Royal College of Music by the time he was 17. But when he was 21 he was diagnosed with Tourettes Syndrome, having suffered from tics since he was young. Generally untroubled when playing the piano and performing, problems during performance led him to retire from public performance and he only made his come back in 2008.

Beethoven sticks generally to Diabelli's key, with few variations modulating, and instead brings in great variety by taken small elements from Diabelli's piece and constructing complex structures based on them. There seems to be no overall structure, and Beethoven in his late period had a fascination with variation form. What he achieves with the theme is remarkable.

Here Nick van Bloss despatches the theme with comic precision and a rather nice wit, before launching into the variations in their infinite variety. He plays with a nicely crisp robustness, you perhaps hear that he has spent rather a long time with Bach's variations, he also brings out the echoes of other styles and composers which Beethoven works, including a lovely Mozart aria moment. There are some impressively dark moments, and very strongly constructed complexity as well as the remarkable barn-storming towards the end. You feel that he has thought a great deal about the music, and the moments I remember are the stranger, otherworldly ones where Beethoven is pushing both harmony and melody to express the inexpressible. He doesn't make a meal of the piece, which is  relief. Some of the variations are quite short and Nick van Bloss rightly treats them classically and moves on, rather than getting stuck in the extreme detail.

I have to confess that I am still not sure about the work, Nick van Bloss's performance is a towering achievement but despite is powerful advocacy the Diabelli Variations is something which I admire rather than love. By contrast, the Appassionata Sonata is simply knock-out and something I can immediately find not only stunning but powerful too.

There is a vividness to Nick van Bloss's playing and both the sonata and the variations have very much live feel

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) - 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op.120 [55.48]
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) - Sonata in F minor, op.57 Appassionata [23.45]
Nick van Bloss (piano)
Recorded by Nimbus Records, at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 28 October 2013, 12 October 2014

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