Beethoven • Mozart
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (trans. Liszt); Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (trans. Alkan)
Paul Wee (piano)
BIS BIS-2615 (CD/SACD) 83:24 mins
Barrister by day, pianist by night, Paul Wee is something of a one-off, and his third recording contains a surprise too. A transcription by the overlooked virtuoso Charles-Valentin Alkan of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor is a revelation, showing that Liszt didn’t have the monopoly on arranging orchestral works for piano in the 19th century.
It’s not the first time the British-Australian pianist has pleaded the case for Alkan – his debut recording showcased the French-Jewish pianist-composer’s Concerto and Symphony for solo piano. This time, Wee conjures the compelling illusion of being both Mozart’s soloist and his orchestra. Of course, that’s in part Alkan’s genius at work. The piano was his soulmate-instrument, and he clearly knew how to translate whole orchestral worlds into its 88 keys. But it’s not every pianist who can lift those notes off the page – and Wee does a wonderful job of honouring both Mozart and Alkan in a performance full of expression and drama.
Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies are better known, designed to contribute to ‘the circulation of the masters and the sense of the beautiful’. Wee tackles the revolutionary ‘Eroica’ Symphony with impeccable technique, captured in clean sound by the BIS recording team. If he doesn’t dig into the subversive elements of the Allegro con brio, his pace and verve make sure the music bowls along happily. Gravitas, energy and playfulness all come to the fore in the rest of his fine performance but it doesn’t surpass Yury Martynov’s Zigzag recording. The Mozart is the real triumph here.