Ronald Smith will for ever be associated with the music of Alkan.
It travelled with him throughout his life. I doubt he felt it
as a burden of type-casting. In fact I also recall Smith for
a fine studio broadcast of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto
with Del Mar conducting the BBC Northern. Smith wrote the
authoritative notes used by APR for this double width set in
2000. His book Alkan The Man The Music
is published by
Kahn and Averill (ISBN 1-871082-73-0).
This set mixes chamber and solo piano. Invaluably it presents
for the first time recordings made in 1992 and 1994 - the former
for Nimbus. The Grand Duo Concertant
is in three movements in which the wildest romantic excesses
- Schumann on steroids or even Foulds - sandwich a movement entitled L'Enfer
That middle movement is quite striking with its swirled and trilled
piano part and sepulchrally dark chordal tolling. The final movement
is one cataract of joyous romantic celebration - Beethoven's Spring
supercharged or mated with the wilder excesses of
Berlioz in the Symphonie Fantastique
The Marche Funèbre
for solo piano rumbles
defiantly, deep in the Lisztian bass. It’s forward-looking
stuff. Interesting that Rachmaninov included the piece in his
first recitals in the USA in 1919. The final piece on CD 2 is Capriccio
which seems to have been satirically
intended - I hope so because amongst the more sublime moments
there are quite a few wince-making pieces of pompous absurdity.
It is, as with everything else, carried off by Smith with great
aplomb. The technical command is complete.
The Piano Trio
is shorter by four minutes than the Duo
but is just as headlong - the very epitome of
an tireless flood of romance - and the melodic invention is remarkable.
There is a delicately pointed second movement and a more grave,
almost Bachian, third. The finale has the emotional discourse
in full flood again. The players throw themselves into these
works headlong; there’s no lack of identification here.
The Cello Sonata
(or Concert Sonata op.47)
again extremely dramatic and fluent. The torque and acceleration
this work is reflected in playing of enormous commitment. There
is a certain bel canto
air to it but it is a work of sturdy
backbone. There is some contrastingly original and trippingly
lively writing in the second and a magically sustained romantic
poise in the starry serene Adagio
(III). The finale skips
and rushes along with the pedal to the floor - the piano scatters
smithereens of notes in all directions. Exciting stuff.
from the Douze Etudes
is rather classically poised - a touch of aristocratic Chopin.
Its successor in the set is more stolidly patterned as against
the dancing lively mordant staccato of the final Etude
We return to more winning melodic grace in the Premier recueil
which is utterly delightful. You need to hear this
Smith's recordings can also be found on other APR discs: more
Alkan solo piano APR 7031, Liszt including the Sonata APR 5557,
Chopin APR5565 and Beethoven Waldstein
No. 32 APR 5566. You can also hear him in a generous selection
of EMI recordings on an EMI Classics Double Fforte
(5756492 - see review