Alkan: Concerto for Solo Piano

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COMPOSERS: Alkan
LABELS: Music & Arts
WORKS: Concerto for Solo Piano
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 724 DDD
The booklet notes for Marc-André Hamelin’s disc set out its stall in the first sentence. ‘The most stupendously resplendent pianistic creation of the 19th century’ is its modest claim for Alkan’s Concerto. Certainly Alkan’s music has become an icon of high Romantic pianism, as if in exploring these works something of the transcendental spirit of the 19th century might be recaptured. To a less partial ear, though, his music seems hopelessly overblown – repetitious, bombastic and melodically undistinguished in a way that makes Liszt seem the soul of brevity and heartfelt sentiment.

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Yet there’s no doubting the exceptional quality of Hamelin’s performance. Every thicket of Alkan’s piano writing is boldly negotiated, every cascade of figuration made glitteringly precise; all the formidable tests of articulation and balance are passed triumphantly. Only the constricted sound fails to do justice to Hamelin’s mastery. It’s an essential buy for anyone susceptible to this brand of pianistic megalomania. Andrew Clements