Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas Nos. 1–3
Louis Demetrius Alvanis (pn)
MERIDIAN CDE 84537 (77:22)
Louis Demetrius Alvanis is a splendid pianist. Despite his exotic name, he was born in London. He made his debut at age nine. His teacher at the time was his father, who apparently contributed the superb program notes to this album. One only can envy Alvanis what must have been a supremely cultured upbringing, which led to a highly civilized approach to music-making. Alvanis studied both piano and composition at the Royal
Academy of Music. His career has included duo performances with the violinist Kyung-Wha Chung. Alvanis’s recorded repertoire centers on the Romantics, with CDs of Brahms and Schumann to his credit. He possesses a big sound and a fine technique, but there is nothing exhibitionistic about his playing. Alvanis presents an almost Brendel-like clarity of purpose, fully infused with the sound world of the composer. His sense of structure is keen, yet he maintains freedom within it. As Rudolf Serkin said of Toscanini, this is “architecture with passion.”
Chopin’s First Sonata, written when he was 17, is rarely recorded. I only have heard it on CDs by Jerome Rose and Idil Biret. Alvanis’s recording by far is the best I know. The first movement here almost has the feel of a Bach fantasy, with organ-like sonorities—particularly in the left hand. The
effect is strangely reminiscent of Busoni’s transcriptions of Bach. The second movement, Minuetto, has the quality of a Schubert impromptu. Alvanis phrases the subsequent Larghetto affectionately. The program notes compare the opening of the finale to Schubert’s
, published four years before the sonata’s composition. Certainly Alvanis seems very comfortable with Chopin’s working out of the prevailing
In the next two sonatas the recorded competition is fiercer, but Alvanis is up to the challenge. The first two movements of the Second Sonata are very impetuous, offering youthful high spirits in dramatic contrast to the funeral march. Chopin, after all, was only 29 when he completed this sonata. The B section of the second movement springs to life under Alvanis’s hands with a subtle rubato. The funeral march possesses an orchestral sense of color, featuring a broad palette. Alvanis pedals the B section of the movement sensitively. In the Third Sonata’s opening movement, the playing is
in its harmonic richness. This definitely is not simply the top-line Chopin; even the quietest moments are contrapuntally subtle. The A section of the Scherzo shows great dexterity. The next movement offers a truly slow Largo. The bel canto lines of its melodies are paired with harmonic coloring familiar from Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas. Martha Argerich’s 1967 live recording is as slow as this, but lacks the tonal shadings of Alvanis. This finale has a big conception, with a ringing, infectiously rhythmical bass.
Meridian’s sound engineering is excellent, full and detailed. There have been many fine versions of the last two sonatas. In the second, I particularly like Rubinstein in 1946, Seta Tanyel, Leif Ove Andsnes, and Louis Lortie. For the third, I enjoy Witold Malcuzynski, Howard Shelley, and the thrilling, wild live recording by Jakob Gimpel. Cécile Ousset is excellent in both sonatas. I think you really have to hear Louis Demetrius Alvanis in the First Sonata, yet in the other two he also ranks high in my estimation. This is playing of a gifted and greatly cultivated Chopin pianist. Alvanis is an artist who makes most other pianists sound just a wee bit routine.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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