Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Alkan Piano Music

Concerto for solo piano Op 39/ 8-10
Chants Op 65
(Third book of songs without words)

Marc-Andre Hamelin (piano)

Hyperion CDA 67569

Although it is no consolation if you are a living composer, posterity will give you a second chance of fame, if not fortune. To gain success either in your lifetime or after, it helps if your music is either catchy or deep. Both (Mozart!), and you are likely really to be up there. Alkan’s music, sadly, is neither, even though it is very fine. So he lost out both in life’s lottery and in his subsequent fame.

Alkan has had a number of unimpeachable champions, particularly Ronald Smith, and Hamelin here, but his posthumous future is by no means uniformly bright. For Alkan’s music is also of extraordinary technical difficulties; he will never have amateur pianists to champion him, in the way that there are at least a few pieces of ‘easy’ Beethoven or Chopin to draw the player in.

This disc needs no review, rather just a description. Hamelin’s credentials are impeccable, a giant technique and great musicality. Alkan is so famous for being neglected (this fact is predictably alluded to in the notes) you probably know in advance whether or not you want to listen to the disc. The recording and notes are up to Hyperion’s high standards.

There are no surprises; the concerto for solo piano is essentially a giant sonata sandwiched in the Op 39 set of etudes. It lasts for fifty minutes and is very difficult, almost indigestible. Hamelin makes light of it (if there is one flaw to this disc, it is that he makes the music sound easier than it is, so good is his technique.) The Chants are post-Mendelssohnian and charming (especially the first, marked ‘vivant’). But none of it is quite great music, and the more you listen, the clearer it is why Alkan is a ‘nearly man’ of the 19th century. Are they, as the booklet suggests, worthy encores? Yes, but the Mendelssohn are slightly more worthy, just as the finale of the larger work is like a sub-Liszt Hungarain Rhapsody and the first movement a sub-Hammerklavier...

With this year, Hyperion has stated it has overcome the financial problems of the Sawkins legal case and is back to pre-Sawkins fecundity of releases. This case has already been discussed in MP’s pages


and it is very probable both antagonists were blameless. But Hyperion’s output is of generally high quality, so to know there will again be more of it is good news.

Ying Chang