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mjzee

Charles-Valentin Alkan

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Any thoughts on the composer Charles-Valentin Alkan?  I had never heard of him, until I read a piece about him in the March 2019 issue of BBC Music magazine.  It painted an intriguing portrait of a composer who "wrote the most demanding piano works in history."  "Wide, rapid, switchback leaps up and down the keyboard are a specialty; figuration hurtling along unbroken at full-tilt for demandingly long periods is another, plus use of an unusual lateral stretch between the fingers."  Indeed, the article seemed to imply that the reason Alkan's music is not more well-known is because pianists are reluctant to play such technically-difficult music.

Intrigued, I bought the 13-disc "Alkan Edition" on Brilliant Classics, to listen for myself.  I've finished the first 3 CDs (all performed by the unfortunately-named Vincenzo Maltempo).  So far, it sounds to me like the classical version of Oscar Peterson: yes, huge, long, demanding runs, almost like hearing an entire orchestra from one piano, but not a lot of emotional depth.

What are your impressions of Alkan's music?

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Don't know the work, but maybe it's the pianist who's at fault?

Found this on You Tube, sounds ok enough:

This, otoh, sounds really creepy, almost like it's not a real pianist playing:

 

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Can't specifically comment, but...

Some 20-odd years ago (maybe as many as 22), when I started reading classical Internet forums, Marc-Andre Hamelin was recording truckloads of Alkan and there was a lively debate. Hamelin was specializing in finger-breaking works by "minor composers" (Alkan; Godowsky also comes to mind), and had a number of ardent champions. On the other side, many dismissed Alkan (and to a large extent Hamelin) in terms similar to those applied above to O. P. Far more of the people I trusted were on the thumbs-down side, so I never listened to Alkan. I bought one Hamelin recording, Rzewski's "The People United...", but much preferred Rzewski's own version so never tried any more. OT and FWIW, Nic Hodges (a pianist and name familiar to Usenet old-timers) made some specific and fairly scathing criticisms of Hamelin's interpretations (not of Alkan, but better-known composers) on either r.m.c.r. or r.m.c.c. (sorry, I forget which).

 

Edited by T.D.

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If you are intrigued you should search for recordings by Ronald Smith or this one:

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1 hour ago, T.D. said:

Can't specifically comment, but...

Some 20-odd years ago (maybe as many as 22), when I started reading classical Internet forums, Marc-Andre Hamelin was recording truckloads of Alkan and there was a lively debate. Hamelin was specializing in finger-breaking works by "minor composers" (Alkan; Godowsky also comes to mind), and had a number of ardent champions. On the other side, many dismissed Alkan (and to a large extent Hamelin) in terms similar to those applied above to O. P. Far more of the people I trusted were on the thumbs-down side, so I never listened to Alkan. I bought one Hamelin recording, Rzewski's "The People United...", but much preferred Rzewski's own version so never tried any more. OT and FWIW, Nic Hodges (a pianist and name familiar to Usenet old-timers) made some specific and fairly scathing criticisms of Hamelin's interpretations (not of Alkan, but better-known composers) on either r.m.c.r. or r.m.c.c. (sorry, I forget which).

 

Yes, Nic did lay the wood to Hamelin  on  r.m.c.r. with much specificity, and it was Hamelin's interpretations of Alkan that he objected to, though similar objections could be raised to many Hamelin performances. I agree with Chuck's Alkan recommendations and also would put in a good word for Jack Gibbons on ASV, Huseyin Sermet on Musique Francaise and Auvidis Valois, and Steven Osborne on Hyperion.

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I have this recording on CD (YouTube upload of the entire CD) -- the only Alkan I've ever heard.

Concerto for solo piano (49:58) -- as performed by Marc-Andre Hamelin (Music & Arts, 1992)

It's both a real barn-burner of a work, but this performance (again, the only one I know) does seem to have an air of restraint about it (as I'm listening now - a disc I haven't spun in at least 5 years).

There's a lot going on in the work, certainly (maybe too much? - for some, probably yes).  FWIW, I do think it's a little less bombastic (or at least this performance) than say perhaps Louis Vierne's "symphonies" for solo pipe organ -- about the only (other) pseudo-symphonic work for solo-instrument that I can think of (as a sort of parallel).  Apples and oranges, perhaps -- and maybe organ is just intrinsically way more bombastic. But I do find Hamelin's read here on this lengthy work pretty compelling (that I'm remembering, from the first 10 minutes I've gotten into the work, in 5 years).  Or maybe 40 more minutes (into the 50-minute work) I might think differently, but so far, so good. 

 

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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There's a bit of a tradition in France of the organ symphony...e.g. a number by Widor. One I particularly like is the Dupré 'Symphonie-Passion'...fairly epic :)

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On 20.8.2019 at 10:21 PM, mjzee said:

(all performed by the unfortunately-named Vincenzo Maltempo)

I found Maltempo to be an excellent technically accomplished painist - which one must be to play Alkan, who must have been a frightening pianist, technically, for his contemporaries. Alkan's music must be performed by an equally comptetent pianist and should be taken in small doses.

Does the box include Maltempo's recording on a historical piano? That one is stunning for the sound effects.

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http://www.vincenzomaltempo.com/en/

Edited by mikeweil

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Ok, yeah, midi files:

Seems to me that eventually and/but inevitably  you get here:

 

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On 8/22/2019 at 9:22 AM, mikeweil said:

Does the box include Maltempo's recording on a historical piano? 

Disc 9 has Maltempo playing on an Erard 1899 piano; and disc 10 has Costantino Mastroprimiano playing a Pleyel 1865 piano and Stanley Hoogland playing a Pleyel 1858.

The box is 10 discs of solo piano music; disc 11 is for trio; disc 12 has piano with orchestra; and disc 13 is for organ (Kevin Bowyer, licensed from Naxos).

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On 8/22/2019 at 4:22 PM, mikeweil said:

I found Maltempo to be an excellent technically accomplished painist - which one must be to play Alkan, who must have been a frightening pianist, technically, for his contemporaries. Alkan's music must be performed by an equally comptetent pianist and should be taken in small doses.

Does the box include Maltempo's recording on a historical piano? That one is stunning for the sound effects.

4617809221_530x5321.png

http://www.vincenzomaltempo.com/en/

Well, Liszt apparently admired Alkan's playing (and his compositions too). Liszt, Alkan and Chopin would regularly perform on the same bill together (yes, I read the Wikipedia Alkan entry). So yeah, I guess he was a decent piano player.

I liked this Maltempo disc, thanks for the recommendation. The piano sounds great indeed.

Now, any recommendations for Alkan performed on pédalier?

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I'm listening now to disc 4, again all solo piano, but this time by Mark Viner.  I'm enjoying this disc much more than I did the first 3.  Maybe it's the composition (12 Etudes dans tous les tons majeurs Op. 35), maybe it's the pianist, but the performance is a lot more relaxed and melodic.  Viner allows the music to breathe.  

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20 hours ago, Д.Д. said:

Now, any recommendations for Alkan performed on pédalier?

There is a recording of the piano concerto on the Hyperion label, but there is no remark in the booklet that Hamelin used a pedal piano.

https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/notes/66717-B.pdf

The only solo works recorded on a pedal piano, AFAIK, two preludes, are on this disc:

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- pédalier instruments in playing conditions are very rare, and recordings on them all the more so. There is an article in German by Martin Schmeding giving a good overview: http://www.gdo.de/fileadmin/gdo/pdfs/AO-1003-Schmeding.pdf

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How have I never even heard OF a "pedal piano" before this very instant?

I'm at least half gobsmacked. :blink:

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This instrument is now considered a sidetrack in music history. Keyboard instruments with a pedal existed as clavichords and harpsichords, mainly as practice instruments for organists at home, although there is some speculation that Bach may have used one in his Leipzig concerts. Haendel used a special custom made organ/harpsichord combination with pedal in his British oratorios and organ concertos. 

There was an attempt to popularize grand pianos with a separate pedal register in the eighteenth century, but only a dozen composers were interested, Schumann, Liszt, and Alkan among them. There a few playable historic instruments in European piano collections, but rarely used or recorded. If so today, by organists who are trained in pedal playing. I know of only two or three recordings.

Edited by mikeweil

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