ALBUM TITLE: Alkan
WORKS: Transcriptions, Vol. 1: Mozart
PERFORMER: José Raúl López (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: TOCC 0240
In typically enterprising fashion, Toccata Classics has identified a project that’s been crying out to be done, and delivered it with sensible programming. Unlike Liszt’s, Alkan’s complete transcriptions make a manageable project, and his Mozart arrangements fit neatly onto a single CD. So far, so good. Yet this recording sets a low benchmark.
The mainstay of the programme is the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466, a companion to Alkan’s arrangement of the first movement of Beethoven’s C minor Concerto. It likewise features typically Alkanesque cadenzas, although not as audacious as the one he supplied for the Beethoven (which at one point introduces the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in cataclysmic counterpoint). The variations from the A major String Quartet, K464, demonstrate the notorious difficulty of transcribing string quartets for the piano (Liszt tried with Beethoven’s quartets but was forced to admit defeat), with many awkward stretches, leaps and challenges of articulation.
Unfortunately, in these performances we are too aware of the technical demands. José Raúl López has enough on his plate negotiating the notes, which inhibits his ability to extend and shape phrases. The result is rather literal and unimaginative, with insufficient variety of tone and timbre. In the Concerto, the ‘Romanze’ is neither dolce nor cantabile, and we only really get a sense of differentiated solo and tutti passages in the finale. The problems are exacerbated by the airless recorded sound, which makes it hard for the piano to sing. Tim Parry