In a rather daunting, encyclopedic fashion, Brazilian pianist and the Sui Generis label have collaborated on a thickly annotated edition of Beethoven’s C Major Variations on a Theme of Diabelli, along with over eight minutes of Beethoven’s protean sketches, the few that still exist for this magnum opus. Alcantara’s piano has been tuned according to the well-tempered system that conforms to Beethoven’s original sense of aural chromatics. [It’s not that different from the normal – not like quarter-tone music!…Ed.] For those who relish the physical nature of acoustics and fine tuning, the 173-page booklet provides innumerable details of pitch, harmonic series, and deviations in various modalities. Czerny and Badura-Skoda have been Alcantara’s guides as to the performance-practice to be followed in Beethoven’s late keyboard works.
This release qualifies as the first Brazilian classical SACD, and although only two-channel stereo the audiophile aspect of the disc is noted in a bright sound of great clarity. Alcantara’s approach belies the thunderous, bravura style; he tries to provide a probing, intellectual intimacy to the huge structural design of the work, relishing its interplay of distinct lines and its occasional moments of Homeric humor. The older sound of the piano conforms to the archaic elements in the music itself, such as imitations in Variation 14 of the French overture, of three-voice polyphony, and of Bach and Handel’s styles, respectively.
Some real furioso playing, as in Variation 17, Allegro, with aggressive ostinati. Elegant pearly-play in Alcantara’s tone, and the slick, even surface will remind auditors of Kuerti in several instances. Variation No. 20 well sounds akin to the opening of the last movement of Op. 110, cross-fertilized with the harmonics of Op. 111. The Mozart Variation passes all too quickly, but its harmonic daring is noted. Alcantara’s handling of rapid repeated notes and broken-octave filigree quite startles, shades of John Ogden. The Sketches section of the CD is a rare delight, a peek into Hephaestus’ workshop. Fragmentary, hesitating, experimental in their own right, the “bagatelles” according the little C Major Waltz allow us to sit on the piano bench with the composer, searching for golden, musical threads.
— Gary Lemco