Alkan's gargatuan Op. 39 Etudes embody a symphony (Etudes 4-7), a solo concertos (Etudes 8-10), an overture (No. 11), and a riotous set of 25 variations depicting the animals of Aesop's fables (No. 12, La festin d'Esope). The music demands boundless technique and stamina, which Jack Gibbons supplies in spades. He dives headfirst into the treacherous writing, letting the chips fall where they may. One can't really top Marc-Andre Hamelin's unflappable proficiency in the concertos, yet Gibbons rougher, leonine demeanor thrusts Alkan's Dionysiac qualities more to the fore. Bet you can't digest this yummy 12-plus course piano feast all in one sitting! --Dan Davis
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Alkan's Magnum Opus (39) has been seen recorded many times over the past years in part, as well as in whole. Jack Gibbons demonstrates that his interpretation of this monstrously challenging set stands at the very top of the list. Out of the 250+ CDs I own, I would have to say that this is the best. Gibbons' "Comme le Vent" is breathtakingly virtuostic and full of velocity. His "En Rythm Molossique" is a great wall of power and control, his "Scherzo Diabolique", feindish and scary. This recording of the "Symphonie" is fantastic, second only to Lewenthal's. His "Concerto" is very ordered, the finale a dazzling display of pianism (despite the missed note in the final black-key run). The "Ouverture" is the best recorded yet, and shows the true depth of Alkan's creations; I could write a review on just this piece! His "Festin" is a bit slow, but he never overexagerates the tempos. The other pieces...
Gibbons' occasional technical vulnerabilities give these performances a human edge missing from hamelin's recordings. Alkan's op39 is music the pianist must fight with. Blood and sweat are a must. Its raw fury can be lost when cooly presented (ala Hamelin). The symphony finale oozes raw excitement under Gibbons' hands. Like in a disaster movie, we root for the protagonist and hope he survives through to the end. A most rewarding experience.
Charles-Valentin Alkan was rightly marked by Busoni as one of the 5 greatest post-Beethoven composers for piano (the others being Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, & Brahms). That his amazing music is not as well know is tragic. Alkan was close friends with Chopin & Liszt, and an influence on both of them (as well as Brahms). His music is the most technically formidable prior to Godowsky. This CD is a recording of Alkan's most remarkable work (the Opus 39 12 Etudes in the Minor Keys). It could not be better performed by Jack Gibbons. Not only is Gibbons up to the pieces cruel technical demands, but he produces a lush rich tone that is a joy in itself. Listen to his performance of the Symphony for Solo Piano (Etudes 4 - 7): there is not a better recorded performance available. Any piano lover absolutely must have these CDs. They are a treasure.
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