I first heard Alkan on public radio and was immediately amazed. This is the first of three CDs I have bought on Amazon-all played by Marc-Andre Hamelin. I think this is the best one to hear first. I'm no expert like most reviewers-just 6 years of piano lessons. But because of those I can truly be amazed at the technique and formidable use of the entire keyboard.
I think this is the most emotional of the three I have (also Troisieme recueil de chants, and Grande Sonate "Les quatre ages"). The beginning piece "Alegro" seems to me a beautiful, but at times, a soul searing ride to death as portrayed on the front illustration "The Dead Go Fast". Nice art pick by Hyperion. The "Finale Presto" made me laugh. It seems traditional, but also sarcastic. I can just see clowns running all over and into each other because of those fast notes. And the "Presto" and many of Alkan's other pieces make use of such fast notes that the piano sounds like water (or in the case of "Le Vent"...
This is the kind of disc it is almost unnecessary to review (especially since I don't know Raymond Lewenthal's alternative and celebrated performance of the symphony). Marc André Hamelin's breathtaking, even unbelievable, technical proficiency is already legendary, and he has plenty of opportunities to shine in this music. But as most listeners familiar with his performances can attest to, his ability to dispatch virtuosic pyrotechnics with a flair, clarity and brilliance that remains peerless does not get in the way of his deep musicality and sensitivity to the musical aspects of his repertoire - the showmanship is always at the service of the music. That makes Alkan an obvious choice, of course - and Hamelin has already produced a series of recordings for Hyperion, all of which are mandatory acquisitions for any lover of piano music in any form - since Alkan's music requires this kind of wizardry precisely to bring out its deeper musical qualities.
In the other albums of Alkan works performed by Marc-André Hamelin, particularly the Concerto for Solo Piano and to some extent the Grande Sonate, Alkan seems to be foreshadowing Rachmaniov and the later romantics. In this album, Alkan is the classicist extension of Beethoven and Brahms leading up to Chopin. Alkan, however, is entirely unique in his style and composition, which is why his works amaze and captivate, more so since his life is sketchy and his works little known. The four etudes that make up the Symphony for Solo Piano have a classical coherence and remarkably have the symphonic sweep and balance. Passion and strenth dominates. In the smaller pieces that follow, the moods shifts to calmness and religiosity. The last work in the album is an earlier trio of romantic, lyrical, but less distinguished compositions. "Le vent", for example, is far too literal and obvious. Throughout, Hamelin is outstanding in his technique and sensitivity. The recording, however, is less...
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