Paul Wee

Alkan: Symphony for Solo Piano; Concerto for Solo Piano

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The backstory is a marketer's dream: pianist Paul Wee was a child prodigy who was playing concertos with major orchestras by 12, traveled to New York to study, but then abandoned his career to study law and became a successful London barrister. Except he didn't abandon it. Wee not only continued to play; he specialized in the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan, the mid-19th century composer whose works are still rarely recorded due to their sheer difficulty. In 2015 and 2016, he gave a pair of recitals at the Alkan Society in London, and a tape was sent to the BIS label in Sweden. The end result was this release, perhaps the first one to contain both Alkan's Symphony for Solo Piano and Concerto for Solo Piano. Both works, part of a larger series of etudes, are technically hazardous but find room for symphonic effects in the former and "tutti" and "solo" markings, Alkan's own, in the latter. Sample the 30-minute first movement of the Concerto for Solo Piano. It is a sheer storm of notes that taxes the stamina of any pianist who attempts it, but it contains expressive interludes to which Wee does justice. There are other recordings of Alkan on the market, notably those of Marc-André Hamelin, whose style Wee resembles, but there are none with a story as compelling as Wee's.

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