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Charles-valentin Alkan: Complete Piano Duos And Duets, Vol. 1

Alkan / Goldstone / Clemmow
Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 70   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline ClemmowAnthony Goldstone
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



ALKAN Complete Piano Duos and Duets Goldstone and Clemmow (pn duo) TOCCATA TOCC 0070 (70:36)


Benedictus. Impromptu on Un fort rempart est Notre Dieu. Saltarelle. Fantaisie à 4 mains sur Don Juan. 3 Marches. Bombardo-Carillon. Finale


Slowly but with tremendous Read more style="font-style:italic">éclat the more recondite oddments of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s sunken treasure are being recovered, and Toccata is owed an incalculable debt of gratitude for being in the vanguard. Still, it is being accomplished with stopgap measures. When the first of a promised three albums of Alkan’s “complete organ music” appeared in 2007 (Toccata 0030, Fanfare 30:3), it was noted that not one of the pieces on that overrich CD was for organ, all were, in fact, composed for the pédalier , a piano equipped with a pedal board, and Alkan’s preferred instrument after his retirement from the concert stage. Performance on organ proved the readiest expedient for revival, and with Kevin Bowyer’s wizardry restoring their often bizarre piquancy to triumphant life it was an expedient one welcomed. In the present program the Benedictus and impromptu, for pédalier , are heard in Roger Smalley’s arrangements for two pianos, thus approximating the sound of the pédalier . The clanking swagger opening the Benedictus , for one of many instances, comes across with a mordant apprehension swallowed by the bass rumble of the Blackburn Cathedral organ chez Bowyer. Smalley’s realizations are mentioned in the late Ronald Stevenson’s Alkan, Volume 2: The Music (London: Kahn & Averill, 1987), which is to say that they’ve been available for some time. Meanwhile, a sweep of the Internet indicates that the pédalier is back in manufacture.


Goldstone and Clemmow are keenly attuned to Alkan. Having transcendent performances of the Benedictus and impromptu to savor beside Bowyer’s (the latter on Nimbus 5089, issued in 1988) is a bit of great good fortune. A chapter remains to be written around Alkan’s rivalry with Liszt—it has been suggested that the former’s four-hand Don Juan Fantasy is a riposte to Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan . It is an equally brilliant if less concentrated romp on several themes from Don Giovanni , rounded off with another pointed bravura tear over “Finch’ han dal vino.” The Saltarelle is Alkan’s arrangement of the final movement of his Cello Sonata, allowing that whirlwind enlarged satisfaction. Smith noted the “wry caricatural humor” of the Three Marches, remarking, “The third contains one of those maddening tunes that will deny its victim a moment’s peace until purged from the system.” And that’s a fact. If the Bombardo-Carillon is a joke that overstays its welcome, the brief Finale rounds all off in a burst of madcap high spirits. Which is to say that this superbly produced album—with extensive notes by Malcolm MacDonald confecting a final elegance—looms as one of the high points of the Alkan “revival,” ongoing now for nearly a half-century. Sound is punchily immediate and slightly bass-heavy, but also viscerally moving.


One mentions in passing that Alkan made a four-hand transcription of an extensive overture to Le Prophète that Meyerbeer discarded and which may be its only extant remnant. Perhaps Goldstone and Clemmow would favor us …


Enthusiastically recommended.


FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis


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This CD adds further weight to the already substantial recorded evidence for Charles-Valentin Alkan's parity with Liszt. These are first recordings of his Saltarelle op.47, the Finale op.17 and both of Roger Smalley's transcriptions of pieces Alkan originally composed for the ill-starred pedal piano.
 
The Saltarelle op.47, amazingly once the finale of a cello sonata, briefly calls to mind the saltarella in Mendelssohn's Italian symphony, but at its relentless prestissimo tempo this is dancing in a hurricane! About 90 seconds from the end there is a short respite, which Alkan jokingly labels 'stanco' (Italian for 'tired'), before then requiring even more furious finger flight from the pianists.
 
The Three Marches op.40 are Alkan's longest work for these forces. Each piece contains elements of a fairly basic military march amplified by typically Alkanian effects and ideas. The first quotes Schubert's famous Marche Militaire; the second, in C minor and E flat major, features a high-pitched ticking followed by a keyboard tornado, and eventually a descent into parade-ground mayhem; the third, in B flat, is the least spectacular, but ends in an appropriately military flourish.
 
The Benedictus op.54 was published with the designation 'for pedal piano or piano three hands', but Smalley transcribed it for piano duo to deepen the sonorities. Despite the title, this is a restless, turbulent work, with a brief Chopinesque interlude before ending 'agnostically'. The oddly named Bombardo-Carillon is a mesmerising piece like nothing else, totally devoid of high notes. The brief but entertaining Finale op.17 is Alkan's earliest work for four hands. It is a military march of sorts - what this was intended as the finale to, if anything, is not clear.
 
The Impromptu on the Lutheran Chorale 'Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott' op.69 was also written for pedal piano or piano three hands, and again Smalley has transcribed it for piano duo, if for no other reason than to make it humanly playable! Alkan's 'Impromptu' title is typically witty - this is an imposing, complex, astounding piece, the equal of Liszt, and offers a master-class in variation form. The theme is instantly recognisable from the opening bars as that of the final movement of Mendelssohn's Reformation symphony - or from Bach's Cantata BWV80 and elsewhere. There are four sections played as a single movement, each keeping the same metronome mark. The final fugue is mind-blowing in its energy and intensity as it swirls towards chromaticism.
 
As if that were not enough notes or insufficient speed, the Fantasy on Don Juan for piano 4 hands, op.26 almost succeeds in upstaging the Impromptu, right from the opening bar. This work may have been a message to Liszt of the "anything you can do" variety. Liszt had recently published his Reminiscences de Don Juan based on Mozart's opera, and cheekily Alkan even uses the same aria for his finale, the famous 'Finch' han dal vino'. Quite possibly, Alkan's is the greater work. There is a brief introduction, theme, five incredible variations and then the fittingly uproarious finale with what sounds like more notes in the final minute than in the whole of Mozart's opera!
 
Husband and wife team Goldstone & Clemmow have been performing now for over 25 years and have recorded nearly 40 CDs. Their intuitive understanding of and interaction with each other is matchless, as indeed it needs to be to master music with such phenomenal technical demands. To come through Alkan's Saltarelle, Impromptu and Fantasy unscathed is an almost superhuman feat.
 
As usual with Toccata, the booklet is a paragon of clarity and information, with an excellent essay on Alkan and these works by Malcolm MacDonald.
 
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Benedictus, Op. 54 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline Clemmow (Piano), Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1859; France 
2.
Bombardo-carillon for Piano 4 hands by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Anthony Goldstone (Piano), Caroline Clemmow (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1872; France 
3.
Variations-Fantasy on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni for Piano 4 hands, Op. 26 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Anthony Goldstone (Piano), Caroline Clemmow (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; France 
4.
Impromptu le choral de Luther, Op. 69 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline Clemmow (Piano), Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1841; France 
5.
Saltarelle for Piano in E minor, Op. 23 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline Clemmow (Piano), Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; France 
6.
Marches (3) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 40 by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline Clemmow (Piano), Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1857; France 
7.
Etude de concert for Piano, Op. 17 "Le preux" by Charles Valentin Alkan
Performer:  Caroline Clemmow (Piano), Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goldstone-Clemmow Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; France 

Sound Samples

Benedictus, Op. 54 (arr. R. Smalley)
Impromptu sur le choral de Luther, Op. 69 (arr. R. Smalley): I. quarter note = 63
Impromptu sur le choral de Luther, Op. 69 (arr. R. Smalley): II. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
Impromptu sur le choral de Luther, Op. 69 (arr. R. Smalley): III. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
Impromptu sur le choral de Luther, Op. 69 (arr. R. Smalley): IV. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
Saltarelle, Op. 23
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Introduction
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Theme: Venite pur avanti
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Variation 1
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Variation 2
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Variation 3
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Variation 4
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Variation 5
Variations-fantaisie on themes from Mozart: Don Giovanni, Op. 26: Finale: Finch' han dal vino
3 Marches, Op. 40: No. 1 in A flat major: Allegro
3 Marches, Op. 40: No. 2 in C minor - E flat major: Allegro moderato
3 Marches, Op. 40: No. 3 in B flat major: Moderement
Bombardo-carillon
Finale, Op. 17

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