Alkan: Esquisses, Op. 63

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Alkan
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Esquisses, Op. 63
PERFORMER: Laurent Martin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555496
This is a re-release of Laurent Martin’s Esquisses (‘Sketches’) for Marco Polo in 1992. The recording itself was made in 1990; while this hardly counts as long ago, the sound quality does seem dated, clear but lacking in fullness and ‘presence’, and giving at times the impression that the chosen recording studio (in Heidelberg) proved a somewhat restrictive ambience for the French pianist.

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Indeed, the boxy recording quality is a notable handicap to enjoyment. As caught here the piano can sound shallow and sometimes uncomfortably penetrating, which to a degree must reflect Martin’s own technical handicaps – as an Alkan pianist not without skill, commitment and character, he’s nonetheless nowhere near the level of, say, Marc-André Hamelin.

The sound quality also limits appreciation of the varieties of flavour and atmosphere, the sheer individuality, of these miniatures. That’s a pity, because the Esquisses provide a remarkable display of Alkan’s curiously off-centre and (once one has caught the Alkan bug) utterly compelling compositional personality. The idiom may not encompass the full flights of bravura evidenced in his larger pianistic explorations, but the range of moods and styles covered – from ‘antique’ to forward-looking, from serene to darkly disturbed – is startlingly wide. For this reason, and at Naxos’s asking price, the disc is worth consideration in spite of all its limitations.

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Max Loppert