Reclusive and eccentric, the French pianist– composer Charles-Valentin Alkan was also undoubtedly one of the greatest pianists who ever lived, and a composer who, like his friend and fellow virtuoso Liszt, pushed the boundaries of what his instrument, and human pianism, could achieve. Again like Liszt, he composed music that was not merely flashy and difficult to play – it tapped a deep comprehension of music history and theory, a flair for the lyrical and the dramatic and of course a vast imagination. Tackling these formidable pieces are eight pianists and one organist, along with the Trio Alkan piano trio and the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto under Roberto Fores-Veses, on recordings dating from 1989–2017. Alkan’s great cycles for theRead more piano — the Études in all the minor keys, in all the major keys, the Preludes in every key – feature alongside other large-scale works like the Grandes Études for hands separate and together and the Nocturnes, as well as characterful miniatures like the Chants and Les Mois. Organist Kevin Bowyer demonstrates that Alkan was as much an organ prodigy as anything else, with performances of the Prieres and Little Plainchant Preludes, as well as music for Alkan’s beloved pedal-piano transcribed for the organ. Read less
Esquisses (48) for Piano, Op. 63by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1861; France Date of Recording: 12/1990 Venue: Tonssstudio van Geest, Heidelberg Length: 74 Minutes 25 Secs.
Impromptus (4) for Piano, Op. 32 no 1by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: by 1848; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 15 Minutes 40 Secs.
Deuxième recueil d'impromptus (4), Op. 32 no 2by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: by 1849; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 13 Minutes 5 Secs.
Salut, cendre du pauvre!, Op. 45by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1856; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 7 Minutes 45 Secs.
Alleluia for Piano, Op. 25by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: by 1844; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 3 Minutes 30 Secs.
Rondeau chromatique, Op. 12by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: by 1833; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 9 Minutes 12 Secs.
Super flumina Babylonis, Op. 52by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Laurent Martin (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: by 1859; France Date of Recording: 11/1992 Venue: Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg Length: 6 Minutes 30 Secs.
Prières (13) for Organ, Op. 64by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Kevin Bowyer (Organ)
Period: Romantic Written: circa 1870; France Date of Recording: 1988 Venue: Salisbury Cathedral, England Length: 52 Minutes 6 Secs.
Impromptu le choral de Luther, Op. 69by Charles Valentin Alkan Performer:
Kevin Bowyer (Organ)
Period: Romantic Written: circa 1841; France Date of Recording: 1988 Venue: Salisbury Cathedral, England Length: 14 Minutes 1 Secs.
An Abundance of Alkan!December 23, 2017By Art Music Lady See All My Reviews"Not everyone is enamored of Alkan, to say the least. One critic, whose name I have blissfully forgotten, called his music a charnel-house of notes. While it is true that Alkans music is among the most note-filled in history, rivaling the scores of Liszt and Sorabji, I find it endlessly fascinating due to his continually original and imaginative treatment of themes and variants. You never know where Alkan is going at any given moment, and his almost inexhaustible fund of ideas contain such things as hands moving in contrary motion, continual crossed-hand passages in which it sounds like two pianists playing, and daring harmonic leaps that were close to 70 years ahead of their time. Whether you buy into his aesthetic or not, Alkan was obviously a visionary whose mind never stopped inventing. Indeed, when one considers that his music became ever more complex, futuristic and interesting during his long periods of retirement from performing, I would say that it was necessary for him to cut himself off from the world in order to create. The concierge of his apartment building was paid to tell anyone who asked for him that Monsieur Alkan is not in, even if they could hear him banging the piano behind the door to his rooms, yet when he felt like it he would go out and socialize or, as in the case of the opening story in this review, play the piano for anyone who happened to wander by. But taking in this much Alkan requires time and patience. Like Art Tatum, Alkan is not a pianist you listen to for casual enjoyment. His music is so dense that you, too, need to cut yourself off from the world around you in order to enter his. We start our journey here with what is often considered Alkans masterpiece, the 12 Études in the minor keys. What looks on the surface like a relatively straightforward collection of piano pieces turns out to be anything but; the 12 Études run something like two hours to play, and include such impossible pieces as Comme le vent, En rhythme molossique, the Scherzo diabolico, Le festin dÉsope, the nearly 15-minute Ouverture and the 52-minute Concerto for solo piano. Vincenzo Maltempo, who gets the lions share of this set (and rightfully so), is clearly one of the best Alkan interpreters of all time. Comparing the works also recorded by Lewenthal (whose RCA Alkan recordings, reissued on CD two decades ago, are indispensable gems), one hears a similar clarity of note-production as well as an irresistible forward pulse. These traits are paramount to a proper representation of this composer, whose mind ran so quickly that his fingers on the keyboard, skilled as they were, could scarcely keep up with his imagination. Comparing Maltempos performance of the Concerto pour piano to both Ronald Smith and Hamelin, the only other performances of the complete work Ive heard, shows the meticulous clarity of the former and the headlong rush of the latter, making his performance, for me, the best of the three. Moreover, he, like Smith, introduces moments of tenderness and relaxation into Alkans music whereas Hamelin just plays softly, which is not the same thing. This is not a condemnation of Hamelin; his recording of the Concerto, which appeared in 1992, was such a sensation that it set a new standard, particularly for those who found Smith just a shade too relaxed for this composer (although Smith played with considerable fire). Brilliant Classics was particularly fortunate to obtain his services. Unfortunately, this pressing contains a flaw not found in the original three-disc release (Alkan: Genius-Enigma on Piano Classics), a series of loud clicking noises between 11:53 and 14:00 of the long first movement. Maltempos performance of the Sonatine, an 18-minute work that could easily pass for a full-blown sonata by many another composer, is considerably crisper and more exciting than the 1988 recording by Bernard Ringeissen for French Harmonia Mundi, but you need to remember that his was the first time this piece ever appeared on a record, and we were all thrilled to have it at the time. The outré Alkan shows himself particularly in the last movement, where strange harmonic clashes (as at 1:45) remind one of early Stravinsky. The manic perpetuum mobile of the Grande Étude Op. 76, No. 3 is so daunting that I couldnt even imagine how many hours it must have taken Maltempo to get this music under his fingers! Pianist Mark Viner plays the much rarer 12 Études in the major keys, no less virtuosic than their minor-key brethren but more Chopinesque in quality. Hes a fine pianist, with fast fingering and good articulation, if less dynamic in forward momentum than Maltempo (I think it has to do with his sense of rhythm being a bit more metronomic). That being said, their less grotesque, more melodic qualities suit his style very well. If the previous work is somewhat Chopinesque, most of the 49 Esquisses are entirely in that style. In fact, the very odd Menuet (No. 32) bears a slight resemblance to the funeral march in Chopins sonata. Im sure they were influenced by his being Chopins neighbor for a considerable amount of time and admiring the Polish composers lyrical, appealing style. Laurent Martin, a superb pianist who studied with Germaine Audibert and Pierre Sancan, recorded these works, almost with other pieces by Alkan, for the old Marco Polo label which Naxos eventually bought out. If his playing here is less floated or atmospheric than Osborne, I find it more Alkan-like in its clarity and energy. Martin has a sure grasp on the style and makes the Esquisses sound more of an integral part of Alkans oeuvre: note, particularly, the clarity and strength of the fugue in No. 6. There are also such unquestionable Alkan touches as the rapidly-shifting chromatic changes in No. 9, Confidence, and in No. 10, Increpatio, we come face-to-face with the grotesque Alkan, shifting both rhythm and harmony in almost demonic fashion. There are even more typically Alkan-style pieces towards the end of the series, such as No. 41, Les enharmoniques, No. 45 Les diablotins, and the No. 47 Scherzetto. Osborne makes very little of these when compared to Martin. Martin also plays excerpts from the 25 Préludes in the major and minor Keys, Variations sur un thème de Steibelt. Rondeau chromatique. Alleluia, the Impromptus and Super flumina Babylonis. In all of these he is exemplary in his command of both timing and use of space in the music, but particularly in the 25 Preludes. La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer, the song of the madwoman by the ocean, is particularly outstanding. Near the end of the first suite in the 25 Préludes, we hear No. 9, Placiditas; Tranquillo, which sounds for all the world like a lullaby written by late Mozart or early Beethoven, immediately followed by the Dans le style fugue: Très vite, an almost ferocious perpetuum mobile, which is in turn followed by a Baroque-sounding Un petit rien. To this extent, then, Alkan encompassed the whole of classical piano style from the Baroque to the late Romantic, including glimpses of more modern piano music to come. Listen, for instance, to the Vivace from the second book of the Op. 32 Impromptus, and youll hear a motor rhythm and melodic treatment that sounds as if it were written yesterday. But of course Alkan, a product of his time, included lots of variations on other composers themesinferior composers like Steibelt and Donizetti as well as superior ones like Mozart and Beethoven. It was just the way things were, the pops concerts of their time. Pianist Alan Weiss plays the nocturne and the Op. 38a Chants. He has a nice style but tend to round off Alkan a bit too much, avoiding the edginess of the music. This was the same way that Bernard Ringeissen played his music back in the 1980s. On the other hand, Alessandro Deljavan has the full measure of Alkans style in the two Petits Pièces and three Grandes études, sounding almost like Maltempo. In the midst of Chopinesque music, we suddenly get the first of the 3 Petits Fantaisies, played by Maltempo, which suddenly sounds like Latin music. Alessandro Deljavan, who plays the 3 Grandes études and 2 Petits pièces, also digs into the music much like Maltempo, particularly in the demonic third etude, Mouvement semblable et perpetual. Continuing through the solo piano music we find frequent examples of Alkans polyglot tastes and variegated style. His nocturnes, surprisingly, are not at all like those of Chopin or Field, being a bit more wide-awake, yet his Les mois is hypnotic, built around soft motor rhythms. Personally, I wasnt happy with the duplication of the Sonatine in an alternate performance by Constantino Mastroprimiano, not because his performance is inferior to Maltempos but, on the contrary, because its so much alike that it doesnt really add anything. On the other hand, Maltempos interpretation of the Song of the madwoman by the sea is considerably different from Laurent Martins, though to be honest I liked Martins version better. Moving on to his chamber music, we hear Alkan redistributing some of the impossible figures he normally required pianists to play by themselves to the violin and/or cello, yet although the violin and cello parts are also virtuosic he did not require them to stretch beyond normal human limitations as he did in his solo keyboard works. Moreover, the Grand Duo Concertant for violin and piano is really quite melodic in the conventional 19th-century sense of the term, despite his adventurous theme developments. I was lucky enough to hear a live performance of his Piano Trio at Cincinnatis College-Conservatory of Music back in the 1990s, and was somewhat amazed by its lyricism and lack of Alkan-isms in its harmonic vernacular. These recordings by Trio Alkan, who consist of violinist Kolja Lessing, pianist Rainer Klaas and cellist Bernhard Schwarz, were made (like Martins) for the old Marco Polo label. Brilliant Classics must have leased them from Naxos for this issue, and Im glad they did as they give his music a different dimension. I was almost shocked to hear the Concerti da camera because I had never heard anything written by Alkan for piano and orchestra. It turns out that he wrote these in 1832, but the orchestral parts were lost for a very long time so the music was only known in his arrangement for solo piano. The first two are in three parts but linked, as in the case of Webers Konzertstück which seems to have been his inspiration for the first of them. The music is indeed Weber-like, with little of Alkans famed harmonic audacity and, surprisingly, only intermittently impossible to play; most of it could easily be learned by an intermediate piano student. Apparently this was a time (the early 1830s) when he was trying to appeal to a mass audience. The second one sounds much more like Alkan, with edgier orchestral music and flashier pianism. François Luguenot is credited with having fully reconstructed these scores. They are played by Giovanni Bellucci, who has a lighter, more Chopin-like touch at the keyboard, but this suits them to a T. I really liked the three Scherzi bravoure but could have lived without the variations on a rather punk aria from Donizettis equally punk opera, Anna Bolena. Alkan did create something quite interesting out of the Variations on Bellini, and the Variations quasi fantaisie sur une barcarolle Napolitaine take an exceptionally simple tune into complex rhythmic and harmonic territory. The last disc presents some of Alkans organ music as performed by Kevin Bowyer. With its softer attack and more diffuse sound, the organ wasnt really an instrument that Alkan had a great affinity for, thus some of this music sounds more pedantic than his piano scores, yet there are moments of interest where he allowed himself to play in his mind with the music qua music and forget about the instrument as such. Some of the Prières could easily be played as musical preludes to a Christian church service and no one would be the wiser as to who wrote it. Most of them are relatively simple exercises that toodle along, creating a nice atmosphere but little else. Of course, having never heard any of it before, I dont know how much of this musics quietude comes from the score and how much comes from Bowyer, with whose work I was unfamiliar. No. 4, marked Moderato, is one of the liveliest of them before one gets to No. 8 (Tempo giusto) or No. 12 (Allegretto), yet No. 5 (Adagio) is a long crescendo that builds to fairly exciting climaxes and No. 6 (Moderato) is exceptionally virtuosic, calling for his patented two-handed runs at quadruple speed, with audacious shifts of key and odd pauses. Unusually, the final piece, marked Andantino, is a jaunty 6/8 tune that Im not sure would be anyones idea of a prayer. The Petits Préludes are just that, a series of very brief pieces, some running only about a half minute, which gives lie to the fact that everything Alkan wrote was a monstrosity. They are, in fact, charming and well-crafted pieces. The organ set, and the collection in general, ends with one of his most impressive pieces, the Impromptu sur le choral de Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The variations therein range from harmonically adventurous to chipper to moody, with Alkan redistributing rhythms and accents, at one point completely rewriting the hymn as something that almost resembles a saltarelle overlaid on a 4/4 beat. At another point he has the right hand, in a particularly soft, buzzy registration, playing the hymn melody while the left plays strange chromatic swirls around it. Even weirder, it wraps up with a multitonal mélange of sound that leads into the organist playing one key in the left hand and another in the right. Wild! --Lynn Rene Bayley, The Art Music Lounge"Report Abuse