Anton Kuerti’s Beethoven Program reviewed by Stanley Fefferman


Sunday, April 12, 2008. Walter Hall, Toronto.

Anton Kuerti described the ‘material’ Beethoven used for his “Diabelli Variations” as the equivalent of a discarded fragment you would find ‘on a cutting room floor.’ From this “cobbler’s patch of a waltz” Beethoven made what is arguably his greatest composition for the piano, especially if you look past the sheer virtuosity to its “lyrical insight, the tender, lovingly shaped subtle magic.”

Mr. Kuerti disassembled the first few bars of the opening turn of Diabelli’s waltz and then demonstrated how these motives pervade the whole of Beethoven’s “Variations.” The opening turn, a few bars in the tonic, a few in the dominant, a sequence of modulations, a descending fourth and fifth and a repeating element, represent almost the entire store from which Beethoven grew his “magical garden.”

Beethoven’s supreme confidence animates the story of how the “Variations” came to be written. Diabelli, a minor composer but a major music publisher, composed a brief waltz and invited 51 composers to contribute a single variation each for a publication Diabelli intended to print as a charity project. Schubert, Czerny, and the young Liszt were among the composers who responded. Beethoven, typically, was so insulted to be lumped as one among 51 that he undertook to compose 33 variations and a coda.

Beethoven, a master of key modulations, chose to stay within the single key of C Major till the final section where he made one variation into a fugue in E Flat and a sequence of three in C Minor. Mr. Kuerti took great care to demonstrate the variety of Beethoven’s subtle inventions, the allusions, humour, and parodies, his exquisite use of canon and fugue, but noting that often “analysis can be more sophisticated than the music,” he invited the audience to listen to the performance.

All of the qualities Mr. Kuerti catalogued in his introduction appeared in the performance: the overall sense of architecture, the humour, the equality of articulation in both hands, the loving attention to subtle shifts of energy, the power passages held in balance with intelligent lyricism, and above all, the sense that after much thought, Mr. Kuerti has no doubt about what he is doing. The result for me was an absorption in the pleasure of listening that took me out of this world, into that golden world of poetry.

Anton Kuerti is Artistic Director of Mooredale Concerts. To find out more about this excellent concert series and to get discount pricing on next year’s series, goto.

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