'Don't waste your time reading this review: beg, borrow or buy a copy of this...
Andrew McGregor 2002
Don't waste your time reading this review: beg, borrow or buy a copy of this life-enhancing disc as soon as possible. You could be getting an online record shop to post it to you right now, so what are you waiting for?
What, you want to know what exactly Uri Caine's done to the Diabelli Variations? That's the problem, you see; it's very hard to describe, and if I'm successful it'll spoil the element of surprise that's such a delicious part of hearing this CD for the first time.
Alright, introductions first. Uri Caine's a pianist who trained classically in Philadelphia while playing jazz at night just round the corner from the university campus. He's able to move between and join together the two worlds more successfully than most performers, and always with intriguing results...as you'll know if you've already come across Caine's re-readings of Mahler, Schumann songs, Italian café-style Wagner, or Bach's Goldberg Variations. With the Diabellis, says Caine, he's looked very closely at how Beethoven was parodying the original (rather dull!) theme...then made his own parody of the parody.
It's brilliant: illuminating, fascinating, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Unlike in his Goldbergs, Caine sticks pretty closely to the original Beethoven Variations... at least the orchestra does, while Caine comments and quips in penetrating interjections and witty asides from his fortepiano. Yes, I did say orchestra: Concerto Köln, for the period-instrument equivalent of a jazzers big-band arrangement. You'll have fun spotting the other bits of Beethoven (and Bach) Caine manages to weave into the texture, and the packaging is almost as enjoyable as the contents -I'll leave you to discover it for yourself.
If you don't come away from the whole experience with a grin a mile wide, and wanting to hear the original Beethoven again, then there's probably no hope for you. Not for purists. No, wait: it should be mandatory for purists.