ALKAN Piano Works
Alkan remains music’s bogeyman, prompting the widest variety of responses [see feature, page 36]. For Pascal Amoyel he is a composer ‘who climbs to the sky by dint of epic battles’. His demands can be near-insuperable (the Symphony and Concerto études for solo piano) yet are marked by an often chilly harmonic austerity. Is he a misanthrope whose sardonic response to other more successful and worldly wise composers makes him a true original? Is he banal or superb? Such questions have been asked ever since the issue of earlier recordings by Raymond Lewenthal, Ronald Smith and, more recently, Marc-André Hamelin, and they will surely continue to be asked after hearing Amoyel’s latest disc.
Setting Alkan’s epic Four Ages of Man Sonata within the context of miniatures, he gives us a lightweight rather than necessarily overwhelming experience. Dextrous and assured in the Sonata’s shooting-star opening, he is less than memorable in the eerie, convoluted fugue at the heart of the second movement (‘Quasi Faust’) and insufficiently intense in the desolating finale (‘Prométhée enchaîné’), with its concluding, nerve-jangling cry of despair. Amoyel lacks the swashbuckling bravura of Lewenthal in ‘Quasi Faust’ or the truer empathy, to say nothing of an incredible fleetness, of Hamelin. He is happier in less demanding items, in the Nocturne where the influence of Chopin is already shadowed by Alkan’s quiddity, or in the Esquisses. Stéphane Gaudion’s front cover hints at an appropriate sense of isolation and La Dolce Volta’s sound is impressive but there is no competition in the Sonata for Hamelin.