Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88)
Unknown Piano Music of Alkan – Original works and transcriptions
John Kersey, piano
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Total time: 75 mins 6 secs
1. Handel trans. Alkan: Chœur des Prêtres de Dagon from ‘Samson’ (3’08”)
2. Alkan: ‘Il était un p’tit homme’: Rondoletto, op. 3 (7’59”)
3. Weber trans. Alkan: Chœur-Barcarolle d’Obéron (Les filles de la mer) (3’48”)
4. Beethoven trans. Alkan: Chant d’Alliance (Wedding Song) (3’25”)
5. Alkan: Désir, petit fantaisie (4’50” )
6. Alkan: Variations quasi fantaisie sur une barcarolle napolitaine, op. 16 no. 6 (7’47”)
7. Grétry trans. Alkan: Marche et Chœur des Janissaires (4’06”)
8. Alkan: Nocturne no 3 in F sharp major, op. 57 (4’30”)
9. Marcello trans. Alkan: ‘I cieli immensi narranno’ from Psalm 18 (3’48”)
10. Gluck trans. Alkan: ‘Jamais dans ces beaux lieux’ from ‘Armide’ (5’55”)
11. Alkan: Variations on ‘La tremenda ultrice spada’ from Bellini’s ‘Montagues and Capulets’, op. 16 no. 5 (7’21”)
12. Alkan: Réconciliation: petit caprice mi-partie en forme de zorcico, ou Air de Danse Basque à cinq temps, op. 42 (8’20”)
13. Alkan: Variations on ‘Ah! segnata è la mia morte’ from Donizetti’s ‘Anna Bolena’, op. 16 no. 4 (6’06”)
14. Anon. trans. Alkan: Rigaudons des petits violons et hautbois de Louis XIV (2’48”)
This disc presents works by Alkan that are either receiving their first recording or which were first recorded on the erstwhile Romantic Discoveries disc CD8 and that are now presented in new recordings made in 2007.
To understand Alkan demands not merely an appreciation of his musical language but also of his other deep passion, theology. A Jewish scholar of both Old and New Testaments, Alkan devoted himself to translation and research during his mature years when not involved in musical composition and performance (he re-emerged on the concert platform late in life, after a long absence). His compositions are shot through with a deep humanity and an unflinching spiritual quality, tempered by an energetic sense of humour.
The choice of material for Alkan’s partitions is revealing of his tastes in sacred music, from Marcello to Handel’s ‘Samson’, as well as showing adventurous repertoire interests in an obscure Beethoven chorus and the Rigaudons of Louis XIV’s violin and oboe band. His early variation sets also show inspiration in the famous operas of the day, though the treatment is authentically Alkanesque in its vigorous pianism.
It goes without saying that Alkan’s music is highly challenging in both technical and musical terms. However, particularly in the partitions, Alkan’s aim is often to create an effect that is extremely difficult to execute but that sounds straightforward. The aim is always a fidelity to the chosen effect rather than that of display for its own ends. And as the pianos of Alkan’s day developed in compass and strength, so his writing adapted, with the high and low notes in ‘Samson’ prefiguring the approach of his admirer Busoni.
In his unknown original works, Alkan proves himself to be consistently intriguing. The Nocturne op. 57 is a fast piece, belying the genre, and surprisingly impassioned, with Alkan’s trademark harmonic novelties. In the Réconciliation op. 42, Alkan experiments with quintuple time, a subject which fascinated him and which was the subject of theoretical correspondence with Fétis as to whether there could be a ‘pure’ five-beat bar as opposed to one made up of groupings of two and three beats.