Charles-Valentin Alkan

Concerto, for solo piano in G sharp minor (Études dans tous les tons mineurs Nos. 8-10), Op. 39/8-10

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Alkan might be dismissed as a mordant satirist, a miniaturist of genius, and a freakish rival of Liszt's in fashioning a transcendental keyboard technique were it not for a handful of works looming as an avenue of astounding, colossal, enigmatic sphinxes. Those works include "Quasi-Faust" (from the Grande Sonate); the late, misleadingly named Impromptu, Op. 69, for pédalier; the Symphonie for solo piano; or that comic masterpiece Le festin d'Ésope. Towering above them -- and above nearly all of the piano literature of the nineteenth century -- the Concerto for solo piano staggers the listener as much by its proportions as by its richness of invention, every rift filled with ore. Failure to secure a post as chief professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire in 1848 deeply embittered Alkan, exacerbating his already reclusive nature. In the almost wholly undocumented years following, he realized the utmost throw of his genius in works furnishing a single player with technical and expressive resources expressly designed to rival those of an orchestra, including an ambitious Overture, the four movements of the Symphonie, and the three of the concerto, all published by Richault in 1857 in the collection of 12 Études dans les tons mineurs, Op. 39, thus dispensing with orchestra, conductor, audience, critics, and other noisome nuisances. For good or ill, he also dispensed with all but the most resourceful performers for the concerto; it is rife with the most cruelly taxing demands before the works of Busoni and Sorabji. The monumental opening movement expands the classical sonata form to a Beethovenian architectonic grandeur and it plays for nearly half an hour, with solo and tutti passages alternating effusive lyricism with sweeping power. The work's central Adagio is Alkan's pithiest, darkest nocturne, brooding and mysterious, beset by the suggestion of distant drums. And the Allegretto alla-barbaresca, a majestically skirling polonaise, crowns the concerto's cascading splendors with a viscerally compelling fiat. Alkan evidently had doubts about the first movement's length, for he authorized an ill-advised cut of 40 of the score's 72 pages to make "un morceau de concert, d'un durée ordinaire." It was probably in this truncated form that he performed this single movement at one of his Petits Concerts in the 1870s. Thus, it remained for Egon Petri to give the concerto its proper premiere as part of a series of BBC commemorative broadcasts over 1938-1939, 50 years after Alkan's death.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro assai
    2. Adagio
    3. Allegretto alla barbaresca

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Nosag Records 227
    2013 Piano Classics PCL 0061
    2007 Hyperion 67569
    2004 EMI Classics 85484
    1999 Philips 454987
    1999 Philips 456913
    1996 APR (Appian) 7031
    1992 Music & Arts 724