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CD: Crotchet

Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)
CD 1
Grand duo concertant for violin and piano op. 21 [25:02]
Marche Funebre op. 26 [9:18]
Trio for piano, violin and cello op. 30 [21:24]
CD 2
Douze etudes dans tous les tons majeurs op. 35: No. 10 Chant d’amour - Chant de Mort [10:20]; No. 11 La partie du milieu ressortant contamment [5:30]; No. 12 Etude en octaves [4:34]
Premier recueil de chants op. 38 No. 1 [4:03]
Sonate de concert for cello and piano op. 47 [33:16]
Capriccio alla soldatesca op. 50 No. 1 [6:46]
James Clark (violin); Moray Welsh (cello); Ronald Smith (piano)
rec. 1992, 1994. DDD
APR 7032 [57:21 + 65:12]
Experience Classicsonline

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 from 1840 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 Sonata 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 alla soldatesca 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 Concertant 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) is again extremely dramatic and fluent. The torque and acceleration of 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.

The Adagio from the Douze Etudes op. 35 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 de chants which is utterly delightful. You need to hear this now.

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, Appassionata and 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).

Rob Barnett


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