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Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)
From: Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op.39 (pub. 1857)
Concerto for solo piano, Op.39, Nos. 8-10 [51:10]
Comme le vent, in A minor, Op.39 No.1 [4:41]
En rhyhme molossique in D minor, Op.39 No.2 [8:27]
Scherzo diabolico in G minor, Op.39 No.3 [4:44]
Vincenzo Maltempo (piano)
rec. June 2013, Studio Musicanti, Rome

Piano Classics seem to be running a small stable of Alkanists in their ongoing and engrossing releases devoted to the composer’s music. Alessandro Deljaven has been entrusted with the responsibility for, amongst other things, The Trois Grandes Etudes and Sonatine whilst Vincenzo Maltempo has already recorded (Piano 0056) Le Festin d’Ésope, Trois Morceauxdans le genre pathétique and, indeed, the same Op.61 Sonatine as Deljaven, whose disc (PIANO 0051) also included the Deux Petites Pièces, Op.60.
The focus on Maltempo’s latest disc is the mighty Concerto for solo piano, which forms part of the even mightier edifice called Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op.39, published in 1857. This disc constitutes the third (of four) in Maltempo’s Alkan survey, which will take in the whole of the Op.39 set.
The focus on Maltempo’s latest disc is the mighty Concerto for solo piano, which forms part of the even mightier edifice called Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op.39, published in 1857. Though Egon Petri recorded a truncated version before the war, it was probably Ronald Smith’s recording in 1968 that alerted people to the status of the Concerto, and a ripple of disc followed. They were dominated by Ogdon’s and, most particularly, Lewenthal’s, though since then Jack Gibbons, for ASV, and Marc-André Hamelin for Hyperion have cast their musical hats into the ring, and others too have ventured onto this most powerful of grounds.
Maltempo has by now shown himself to be a powerful interpreter of Alkan, which he needs to be in the expanse of the Concerto. Here he shows how to fuse the bravura and the more elfin, prismic moments in this work. The virtuosity is commanding but the poetry is bewitching. The flux and fluid flow of Alkan’s writing is rendered, through single-minded application, at once logical and also strange. Digital clarity lays bare Alkan’s colossal demands but never strips the music of its mystery, so that the lyric tracery of the vast first movement – it’s as long as the whole of Liszt’s Sonata – conjoins with moments of hymnal chording to maximum advantage. This is not to suggest that Maltempo underplays the toccata-like drama – he may not quite equal Hamelin in implacability here - but rather more to suggest that he navigates his way (and ours) through this edifice with naturalness and refinement. These dappled moments and their brothers, the stormy petrel outbursts, are more conjunctive in the central movement where one feels the music increasing in tension for the increasingly triumphant finale, its ‘barbaresca’ element finely realised by maltempo
Maltempo shows throughout that he has both the technique and the ear for poetic mystery that the work needs. In the three opus mates he also shows a convincing command of Alkan’s more single-minded pursuits. Comme le vent is a technical tour de force, hands flying everywhere, a piece of mid-nineteenth-century pianistics that must still inspire dread in the unwary. In the octave study, En rhyhme molossique, the difficulties are, if not surmounted, then at least largely hides from the acute ear. This was the piece that Busoni premièred in Berlin and which earned for Alkan some of the worst criticisms of his career. Finally, Maltempo ends with the study in leaps, Scherzo diabolico, in which he doesn’t overlook the powerhouse chording – as if he could.
This is a formidable disc, excellently recorded and – as I hope I’ve made clear – splendidly interpreted.
Jonathan Woolf