Alkan: Chamber Music; Grand Duo concertant, Op 21; Senate de Concert, Op 47; Trio in G Minor, Op 30

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COMPOSERS: Alkan
LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Chamber Music; Grand Duo concertant, Op 21; Senate de Concert, Op 47; Trio in G Minor, Op 30
PERFORMER: Trio Alkan
CATALOGUE NO: 8.223383 DDD
I confess that I was unfamiliar with the work of Charles Alkan, so the quirky brilliance of this chamber music disc came as a very pleasant surprise. Born in Paris in 1813, Alkan was a virtuoso pianist, composer and contemporary of Chopin and Liszt. He was also a recluse, who gave few concerts and took few pupils, so his work was seldom heard – a neglect no doubt compounded by the fact that his music, written mostly for solo piano, could be fiendishly hard to play and was as erratic in style as it was boldly original.

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To judge by these three rare chamber pieces, Alkan may have been a century ahead of his time too. This is dynamic music, full of furious energy and startling leaps of mood. Alkan is reminiscent of Schnittke today; a master of fragmentary form, superbly knitting together a whirl of exclamatory passions and intimate sighs. He pushes the music to extremes – a fast movement is marked ‘Aussi vite que possible’, a lyrical theme is to be repeated ‘avec exaltation’ – and its mercurial shifts of feeling lend it an elusiveness and ironic air that seem thoroughly modern in spirit.

There’s not enough space here to discuss the pieces in detail, but try to hear the Duo’s L ‘Enfer (Hell), a gripping dialogue of doom-laden piano chords and weeping violin; the bravura Saltarella that closes the Senate in a frenzy of exhilaration; and, from the Trio, a Scherzo that tiptoes through a delightful pizzicato ’round’ followed by a lovely Lentement, out of which floats, with shocking familiarity, the tune of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere’.

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The Trio Alkan play with a panache that really brings alive the drama and invention of this extraordinary music. A terrific disc. Graham Lock