Alkan, Liszt: Sonate de concert, Op. 47

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Alkan,Liszt
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Sonate de concert, Op. 47
PERFORMER: Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello); Pascal Amoyel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901758
French cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand follows up her critically acclaimed debut disc for Harmonia Mundi (Dutilleux, Henze, Ligeti, Crumb and Bacri) with Liszt’s cello and piano works (chiefly transcriptions) and a brilliantly impassioned realisation of the Sonate de concert by Charles-Valentin Alkan.

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This formidably taxing work was written in 1856 for the cello virtuoso Franchomme, for whom Chopin had previously composed his own valedictory Sonata. It demands enormous stamina and masterful technique. Bertrand possesses both, with the courage, flair and insight required to make this patchwork of Semitic introspection and inflammatory virtuosity take flight. Her rapturous treatment of the deeply contemplative Adagio is very fine indeed; Bernhard Schwarz played capably enough, too, in his 1991 Marco Polo account, though Bertrand is on magisterial form throughout this rarity.

Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel never upstage Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough in the Liszt pieces, which they taped in 1995 for RCA (with Anton Rubinstein’s Sonata) as ‘Forgotten Romance’.

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The British duo modulates sonorities and dynamic range with seemingly limitless variety (Constance Himelfarb, incidentally, writes of ‘metaphysical depth’ in these pieces) and produces deftly persuasive, naturally empathetic interpretations. Bertrand’s eruptive Alkan performance is astounding, however, and unrivalled in the catalogue. Michael Jameson