Julian Trevelyan plays the Diabelli Variations at St Mary’s

JulianTrevelyan plays the Diabelli Variations at St Mary’s
An notable achievement is how Dr Hugh Mather described Julian Trevelyan’s Diabelli Variations today.
Miracles do not happen every day but I am certain that today we were all hypnotised by this extraordinary first outing of Beethoven’s final thoughts for the piano.
It will now grow even more in stature until Julian has the courage to abandon the written score and enter even more fully into Beethoven`s universe with the same frenzy and total dedication of Rudolf Serkin in his unforgettable performances of op.106 and 120 in the RFH in the early 70’s.Alfred Brendel too was unforgettable.
A performance marked by the great rhythmic energy from the first to the last note of a fifty minute span in which all the range of emotions were exposed in one of Beethoven’s last works for piano.
Later in op 126 the same emotions were filtered and distilled as he had indicated already in these 33 variations on the simple little waltz by Anton Diabelli.
The 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120, was written between 1819 and 1823 and is considered to be one of the greatest sets of variations for keyboard along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Donald Tovey called it “the greatest set of variations ever written”.
Alfred Brendel has described it as “the greatest of all piano works”.
It also comprises, in the words of Hans von Bülow, “a microcosm of Beethoven’s art”.
In Beethoven: The Last Decade 1817–1827, Martin Cooper writes, “The variety of treatment is almost without parallel, so that the work represents a book of advanced studies in Beethoven’s manner of expression and his use of the keyboard, as well as a monumental work in its own right”
( It is interesting to note that his daughter Imogen has just recorded the Diabelli on Chandos CHAN 2005 to great critical acclaim)
Arnold Schoenberg writes that the Diabelli Variations “in respect of its harmony, deserves to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven”.
Beethoven’s approach to the theme is to take some of its smallest elements – the opening turn, the descending fourth and fifth, the repeated notes – and build upon them pieces of great imagination, power and subtlety.
Alfred Brendel wrote, “The theme has ceased to reign over its unruly offspring. Rather, the variations decide what the theme may have to offer them. Instead of being confirmed, adorned and glorified, it is improved, parodied, ridiculed, disclaimed, transfigured, mourned, stamped out and finally uplifted”
And so undaunted this young musician,Julian Trevelyan, approached for the first time in public this masterpiece trusting in Dr Mather’s discerning audience to find the right ears for the beginning of his great voyage of discovery.
It shows the great intellectual searching mind of this young pianist who has already taken the musical world by storm at the age of only 16 when he was the top prize winner in the Marguerite Long (Thibaud-Crespin) International Piano Competition in Paris.
Now at 19 and studying at Oxford he chooses to play this monumental work instead of the more usual fare of Liszt,Chopin,Rachmaninov that we are used to hearing from the young lions that roar at us from every angle of the planet.
Andras Schiff played both the Diabelli and Goldberg in his 60th birthday recital a few years ago.
It is a pure coincidence that this week in London he gave a revelatory account of the two Brahms concerti on a Bluthner of 1860,the same one that he uses for his most recent recording of the Diabelli variations.
A performance at once marked from the outset by a rhythmic drive that took us unrelentingly through the fifty minutes in which Beethoven spans all the human emotions via this disarmingly simple little waltz.
Great contrasts at once apparent between the maestoso Alla Marcia of the first variation and the lightweight scamperings of the second.All played with the minimum of pedal that allowed for great clarity of detail.Subtle shadings being made by his very sensitive touch.
The striking beauty of the following variations to the chorus of great trills in every part of the piano.Great contrast of dynamics with great foreward impetus in the 7th and the clarity and beautiful legato “dolce e teneramente” of the 8th.We were not spared Beethoven’s snarling acciacaturas and the technical precision of the 10th was breathtaking.
The delicate beseeching of the melodic line spread over the whole range of the keyboard was followed by some very telling finger legato which allowed the bass to become even more menacing.
The great Beethovenian contrasts were superbly realised in the following variation leading to the first of the most intense statements of number 14 which was played with great depth of feeling.
It is a profound statement that finds a parallel only in Bach’s great set of Variations dedicated to Goldberg.
A slight release of tension in the scherzando’s playful sense of rhythm before the great outburst and forward movement of the 16th and 17th. A great sense of mystery in the 18th before the superbly cascading notes of the 19th.The 20th so reminiscent of Beethovens last Sonata op 111 with his deepest anguished lament ending in paradise and superbly judged by Trevelyan.
The spell rudely awakened as always by Beethoven with the trills once again appearing all over the keyboard.
Beethoven at his most playful immediately followed by great feats of virtuosity with impertinant interruptions .Contrasting with the peace and pastoral feel of the fughetta.The bubbling left hand played all so clearly and leggiermente on which the chords were allowed to bounce so playfully.The beautiful liquid sounds “piacevole” leading to great feats of virtuosity and the angular chords played with an obtuse sense of bewilderment.
Gradually leading into the very heart of this work from variation 29.
I had admired so much Andre Tchaikowsky here in the way the very specifically marked rests were allowed to give a passionate almost gasping feel to this long sustained melodic line.
The most profound 31st variation so similar to the slow movement of the Hammerklavier in it’s almost Bellinian embellishments led to the frenzied outburts of the ferocious Fugato.
It was here that the animal like frenzy of Serkin will never be forgotten by all those that could feel the electricity generated by this simple professorial looking man.
It is impossible to abandon oneself to the animal like instincts and frustrations that Beethoven demands reading from the score.
The disarming innocense and eventual disintigration of Diabelli’s little melody in the final variation was superbly realised by Julian Trevelyan
I look forward to hearing Julian Trevelyan again in this work that will grow in stature and evolve as he too will as he learns to live with it.
The birth of the great artist he is revealing himself to be via living with these masterworks and sharing them with a world that awaits.

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