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Diabelli Variations – Uri Caine

Winter and WInter 910 086-2

With past releases, such as Mahler in Toblach or the Goldberg
Variations, Uri Caine revealed a remarkable, almost dumbfounding
eclecticism. His ability to fuse elements as disparate as jazz, hip-hop,
Latin, klezmer, rock, pop and the veritable kitchen sink into various
classical compositions takes a talent likely engendering the oft bandied
term "genius." Simply, very few people have the capacity to venture into
such dissonant domains, let alone to re-examine and rewrite classical
compositions in an effort to construct more powerful expositions for

According to Caine, the quest to reevaluate modern classical perceptions has
more to do with a lust for biographical studies than any possible personal
crusade against the tuxedo and wine sipping set. When he begins to examine a
work of music, Caine contends, "[he] examines the music's status,
perception, and state of immediate creation before ever performing the
work." When analyzing Mahler's life, Caine suddenly realized the inexorable
struggle between faith; for Mahler, Catholicism and Judaism stood over him,
peering down and fomenting a tyrannical struggle over his life. As Caine
further studied Mahler, he realized the performance needed to express these
issues; thus explaining the addition of discrete klezmer passages or general
overtones throughout his Mahler recordings.

At the same time, Mahler's desire for an "untrammeled existence," noticeable
in "I Went Out This Morning Over the Countryside," for Caine became breezy,
Chick Corea-like works, containing more frivolity than the heavy handed
conductors often ascribe. In Caine's opinion, why make such compositions
tenebrous for merely cohesion purposes, when it does not approximate the
freedom Mahler so desperately desired?

After Mahler, Caine's interpretations of the Goldberg Variations
received reviews running the gamut between critical acclaim and egregious
bile. For Caine, again examining the biographical information, Bach's
variations were post-modern before such a term became clichBach
essentially exhausted the possibilities of a given melody by displaying the
potential when form constantly gestates. Realizing the increase in musical
forms since Bach's epoch, Caine went wild, flying like an unfettered kite.
Every style of music appeared, from standard classical, to hip-hop
treatises, rumbas, and pop crooning.

With Caine's latest release, he again has examined the world of harmonic
variations, yet this time with Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. After
the unrelenting eclecticism of the Goldberg Variations, the true
surprise concerns how innocuous the Diabelli Variations sound on a
superficial level. No DJs or esoteric poetry addles this release. Even more
astonishing, Caine's piano playing, on an 1839 Erard no less, receives
embellishment by Concerto Koln.

The Diabelli Variations' relatively hushed exterior belies some of
the more intellectually and socially challenging contortions undergirding
the performance. There are deviations, as on "Variation XVII," where the
original lines by Beethoven of lilting, descending fourths suddenly turns
into Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." Other references run the gamut of
habanero arpeggiations and ragtime strides, to subtle quotes of Bud Powell's
"Parisian Thoroughfare;" thus continuing Caine's longstanding tradition of
form versus content polemics. In reference to such jazz and folk
embellishments throughout the release Caine comments, "I simply heard
passages which were commensurate to various other compositions, and I felt,
being the performer, I must offer myself and my perspective to the work."

Which arguably makes the Diabelli Variations one of Caine's greatest
works and one which will receive lavish praise. For Beethoven, the original
goal of the Variations was to impishly insult Diabelli's heinous,
overwrought melody. As time elapsed, Beethoven realized through parody,
irony, and imitation, he would eventually locate his musical self, with
self-reference being the final destination of his "dialectical materialism";
reaching the patent zenith with "Variation XXXIII."

Caine, in recognizing his equal classical and jazz upbringing, of recalling
the days of his youth analyzing Bach and rewriting a sonatina with a bebop
influence, realized the Diabelli Variations were a moment for
sincerity and self examination. As a result, he needed no other
supernumerary elements to obfuscate the biographical data, which would
subsequently besmirch his personal moment of self-reference. Just him, an
orchestra, and the timeless search for self, became the only elements
necessary for making the Diabelli Variations a success.

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