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Alkan: Le Festin D'esope, 3 Morceaux, Ouvertures, Sonatine / Maltempo

Alkan / Maltempo,Vincenzo
Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Piano Classics   Catalog #: 56   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Vincenzo Maltempo
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

ALKAN Trois Grandes Études, op. 76. Sonatine, op. 61. Deux Petites Pièces, op. 60 Alessandro Deljavan (pn) PIANO 0051 (76:18)

ALKAN Le Festin d’Ésope, op. 39/12. Trois Read more Morceaux dans le genre pathétique, op. 15. Ouverture, op. 39/11; Sonatine, op. 61 Vincenzo Maltempo (pn) PIANO 0056 (74:35)

The music of Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813–1888) always makes for a marvelous listening experience. Though his works were first brought to light in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily by Raymond Lewenthal and Ronald Smith—notwithstanding Busoni’s, Petri’s, and Sorabji’s earlier championing—it has only been in the last couple of decades that his music has become better known and appreciated. Thanks to pianists such as Marc-André Hamelin, Stephanie McCallum, Jack Gibbons, Francesco Libetta, Steven Osborne, Bernard Ringeissen, and Olli Mustonen, among others, Alkan’s music is finally reaching the audiences it deserves. Here we have two additional pianists, exploring some common ground, though mainly focusing on different sides of this multifaceted composer.

Alessandro Deljavan began studying the piano when he was not quite two years old. By the age of 16, he had already graduated from his degree in piano from the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. He has toured the entire globe—performing everywhere from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium to the USA, Argentina, Russia, and South Korea—and been placed highly in many of the competitions in which he has participated (the Gina Bachauer Young Artists Competition, the Van Cliburn Competition, and the Isang Yun International Competition). And, beyond all the numerous names of places and competitions that one can list, when one listens to him, one realizes that he is a thinking artist. The first of the Trois Grandes Études which begin his recital, the remarkable “Fantasia for Left Hand Alone,” is taken a bit too slowly, but so dreamy does the composition sound in his hands, so serene is the effect that he creates with the throbbing of the tremolo accompaniment, that the tempo itself matters little. The Second Étude, the “Introduction, Variations, and Finale” for right hand alone, is less successful, and for similar reasons. Not only does the material require faster tempos than those taken, the pianist overall seems too careful. Where is the sense of urgency? Where the sense of spontaneity? Everything just seems too calculated. The perpetual-motion Third Étude works well, though here the playing, especially when compared to Marc-André Hamelin’s spectacular live Wigmore recital disc, seems clunky. The Sonatine, by contrast, is perfectly rendered: the first movement is quirky, yet graceful; the second, calm and lyrical; the third—the Scherzo-Minuet—virtuosic and impulsive at times; the Finale, rhythmic and driving in its intensity: just witness the last 30 seconds with its torrents of octaves, lastly moving in opposite directions, ending with its hugely spaced A-Minor triads. The climax here is palpable. The recital closes with the Deux Petite Pièces , two melodic compositions, both comprised of a number of different sections. The first seems the more virtuosic of the two, especially in the quasi scherzando section, and in the final bars, with its numerous 32nd notes. The pianist is best here in the more melodic sections, his playing free and colorful. Yet in the quicker sections, as in much of his playing in the entire recital, he seems overly sentimental in places. A section marked scherzando should not be played sentimentally! But overall, his is a fascinating recital, highlighting the more classical and early Romantic aspects of this composer.

Vincenzo Maltempo’s recital is markedly different. Other than the common piece between recitals—the Sonatine, op. 61—this pianist’s program focuses on the more transcendental qualities of this composer, both the technical/mechanical and the spiritual. Maltempo too began his piano studies early on, graduating with highest honors from the San Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, before winning the first prize in the Premio Venezia Piano Competition in 2006. He has gone on to win further awards: first prize in the 2008 Liszt Piano Competition in Grottamare, Italy and first prize, by unanimous vote, in the 2012 G. A. Fano International Competition. This is his second album of Alkan’s works; he must be a fan of this composer’s music, as he is planning to perform in Tokyo in November of this year Alkan’s complete op. 39 Minor-Keyed Études in a single recital, and has further plans to record more of his works. Perhaps the complete pianistic oeuvre ? We should be so lucky. Maltempo, too, is a fierce technician, easily handling the many hurdles in this music and more importantly making musical sense of this often quirky and eccentric sound world. Le Festin d’Ésope has perhaps never sounded easier. The pianist characterizes this music so well, relaying the numerous “oddities” in the process—the dog barks, the hunting calls, the lion roars—that never do these attributes seem gimmicky. The Trois Morceaux— including most famously “Le Vent,” the chromatic study characterizing the wind—is equally well handled. Though I may prefer Marc-André Hamelin’s version of that particular piece, with its more straightforward and easy-sounding approach, Maltempo’s version has much which is attractive: the balance between the hands is admirably achieved—no easy feat, with all of the passagework in one hand and the widely spaced chords in the other; and the constant ebb and flow of the scales, with their numerous crescendos and diminuendos, are more than heard, they are felt. The most symphonic composition on the recital, the Ouverture, is truly spectacular. Though special attention is paid to each section of the work, the pianist is careful in maintaining a relationship between each part, imparting the whole with a magnificent sense of drive to the end. His “orchestral” playing is grand and full, never sounding harsh, while the pianistic 32nd note filigree is delicately handled and extraordinarily well balanced. His octave passagework is crisp, while maintaining a beautifully rounded sound throughout—if one wills to be awed, both musically and technically, then look no further. His Sonatine is equally well played: quirky, impulsive, rhythmically driving, and in general lighter in tone than the preceding works. Where he is more successful than Deljavan is in his consistency of tempo.

These are two fine recitals, but Maltempo’s is the more successful: he is unfussy in his approach, always finding nuances in the most subtle of means, and in general takes more risks. Deljavan, however, is no slouch. He reads the music in a completely different way: his is a more refined, more reflective, more inhibited Alkan. For me this just doesn’t suit the music. Alkan’s music must sound quirky, almost eccentric, full of spontaneity, of energy. He must sound completely original, yet never sentimental: think a mixture between Mendelssohn and Berlioz. But all is dependent on how one likes their Alkan. Either way, here are two accomplished interpreters, both with fierce techniques, who obviously have something to say with this music, regardless of how different those messages may be.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Sonatine for Piano, Op. 61 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Vincenzo Maltempo (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; France 
Morceaux (3) dans la genre pathetique, Op. 15 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Vincenzo Maltempo (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1837; France 
Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 39: no 12, Les festin d'Esope by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Vincenzo Maltempo (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; France 
Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 39: no 11, Ouverture by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Vincenzo Maltempo (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; France 

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