Alkan: Piano Duos and Duets

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Toccata
WORKS: Piano Duos and Duets: Benedictus, Op. 54 (trans. Smalley); Impromptu sur ‘Un fort rempart est Notre Dieu’ (trans. Smalley); Saltarelle, Op. 47; Fantaisie sur Don Juan; Trois Marches, Op. 40; Bombardo-Carillon; Finale, Op. 17
PERFORMER: Anthony Goldstone, Caroline Clemmow (piano)

As any musician will testify, there are some superficially dazzling works that rouse an audience’s admiration but are relatively easy to play. Conversely, the intense effort required by some deceptively simple sounding pieces goes largely unnoticed. While full of scintillating textures, and clearly virtuosic, Alkan’s piano works for four hands tend towards the latter category. His solo piano works are as unfeasibly difficult as they sound, yet the effort seems less Herculean when 20 fingers are involved. 
Still, Goldstone and Clemmow’s complete survey is a welcome addition to the catalogue, for these pieces show a different side to Alkan’s musical personality, making thoughtfully genial music with friends rather than being the lone hero in epic creations. For all its capriciousness, the Fantaisie sur Don Juan is a sparkling affair, while the Three Marches not only echo Schubert, but look forward to Mahler, and even Stravinsky. Two works originally for pedal piano, Benedictus and Impromptu, are heard here in transcriptions by Roger Smalley. The Impromptu belies its modest title, being a remarkable set of variations on a Lutheran chorale. Overall, though, this disc is lighter in spirit than much Alkan. Christopher Dingle