Mitsuko Uchida is back with Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations

Mitsuko Uchida
Mitsuko Uchida. (Photo: Twitter)
Mitsuko Uchida

Jean-Claude Elias

The writer is a computer engineer and a classically trained pianist and guitarist. He has been regularly writing IT articles, reviewing music albums, and covering concerts for more than 30 years.

It has been almost 20 years since I discovered musician Mitsuko Uchida and her exquisite pianistic touch. Born in Japan but naturalized as a British citizen, the pianist is globally recognized as one of the best-performing classical pianists alive. Back then, it was a selection of six piano sonatas by Mozart that caught my attention and made me a faithful follower of the artist and an admirer of her playing style. اضافة اعلان


This year Uchida has recorded Beethoven’s compositions known as “Diabelli” variations. The prestigious Decca record label released the album. It consists of 33 short variations on a waltz composed by Anton Diabelli, an Austrian musician and a contemporary of Beethoven. The entire set is in the simple key of C major.


Making 33 variations on one single theme is a challenging feat, especially for the performer. In terms of keeping things interesting for the listener, the performer needs to make sense of the theme, capture it, and then grasp and hold the audience's attention. Needless to say, Beethoven amply succeeded in his part. As for Uchida, she beautifully sails through the 33 tracks and welcomes us on a beautiful musical journey with her. And there is an easily discernable “progression” from the first to the last piece.


After the fifth track or variation, the ternary, waltz-like and simple meter of the beginning makes way for a more purely “Beethovenesque” sound, with typical massive chords. Here Uchida’s talent plays a major role in keeping an ideal balance between fantasy, humor, and seriousness, between the light-hearted and the heavier — the majestic.


The trademark of all great performers is to achieve such balance while preserving clarity, remaining precise and accurate, and never sounding mechanical. Beyond a doubt, Uchida is a master in this sense — the clarity of her playing truly is superlative, a tour de force when it comes to Beethoven’s works, and her level of musical expression is second to none.

Uchida’s style is all about elegance, refinement, and restraint. This Beethoven Diabelli variations recording comes to confirm it one more time and is a 2023 Grammy Nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Solo.

The sonic scope of the Diabelli variations is very different from the above-mentioned recording of Mozart sonatas that Uchida released in 2003. Comparing the two albums is interesting because it gives a good idea of the wide range of musical expressions that the Japanese-British pianist covers and can convey.


The allegro movement of track 17 is a showpiece of power and virtuosity, belying the simplicity of the C major key. So does the presto variation of track 20. In contrast, the quiet and superb andante of track 21 comes as the calm after the storm, just like the fughetta-andante of variation 25. This quietness trait culminates in variation 32, played in a largo, molto espressivo (slow, very expressive) movement. Not surprisingly, this track 32, along with the first one of the set, is by far the most played on the Spotify streaming platform. After all, statistics and figures do not always lie.


Overall, Beethoven takes all the variations so far that it is hard for the listener — whether familiar with classical music or a newcomer to the genre —to relate to the original work by Diabelli. But this is what variations are for, in the end, to take you far from the beaten track.


Uchida’s style is all about elegance, refinement, and restraint. This Beethoven Diabelli variations recording comes to confirm it one more time and is a 2023 Grammy Nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Beethoven’s composition, however, is not to be taken as the typical work by the great German master, especially for those trying to discover him. It is perhaps more prescribed for those already familiar with his other, more known compositions and seeking to understand him better.


Uchida has an extensive discography. Among those most representative of her style and performing talent, apart from the above-mentioned two, are 12 Etudes by Claude Debussy, Schubert’s piano Sonatas D. 845 & D. 575, and five Beethoven’s piano concertos, recorded with the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.



Read more Opinion and Analysis

Jordan News