New recording:  Adventures with Alkan – Lloyd Buck

Quasi Caccia – Caprice, Op.53


Impromptu in F sharp

Fantasticheria (first recording)

Bourrée d’Auvergne, Op.29

Esquisses, Op.63 Nos. 4, 5, 8, 20 & 21

Trois Andantes Romantiques, Op.13

Scherzo Focoso, Op.34 (first recording)


“Adventures with Alkan” is a well-chosen title for this enterprising collection from a small new company.  Several of the works have appeared very rarely on CD, and at least two are receiving their first recording.  There is a good sequence of longer and shorter pieces whose contrasts in style and technical difficulty make a programme which is easy to hear without pause from start to finish.

 Quasi Caccia makes a good upbeat start, with effective alternation of highly active passages and more restful sections.  I have not heard this piece on record before.  It may not be as melodically inspired as some of Alkan’s other pieces, but it has a satisfying structure and an impressive number of technical challenges which Lloyd Buck meets in commanding style.  What I particularly liked was his ability to cope with the hurdles without resorting to an all-purpose loud dynamic.  Listeners may be reminded of some of the textures found in the Sonatine.  It has some of Alkan’s more advanced uses of harmony as well as whole-tone scales rare for the time.

 Palpitamento is a short work which we have heard at a Society meeting, taken from an unpublished manuscript, and this might well be a first recording too, although the booklet does not claim it.  The Impromptu in F sharp is a single piece from 1845 which again is unfamiliar to me, as the score is quite hard to find.  Both pieces are well played.  Fantasticheria is the first of two pieces with that name:  the second carries the sub-title Chapeau bas! and is in print, but the first is another rarity to be welcomed on CD.

 Bourrée d’Auvergne, dating from 1846, is a challenging piece which needs good playing to avoid a sense of monotony in some of the textures.  Alkan’s typical multiple grace-notes are played in good style, and the quieter, lyrical sections are well contrasted.  The octave passages towards the end are well sustained, and this is another performance of a work which will not be familiar to many who think they know most of Alkan’s output.

 There is so much variety among the Esquisses that a brief selection can never be fully representative, but the five here will certainly encourage further investigation.  No.20 – Morituri te salutant – is the darkest and most familiar of the five, and Lloyd Buck’s interpretation is a convincing one.  The other four – Les cloches, Quasi-coro, Pseudo-Naïveté and Innocenza – make a good contrast with the Bourrée and with the next four tracks.

 The three Andantes Romantiques are fine pieces, especially the middle one with its “hidden melody”, and receive some particularly sensitive performances.  A recording session of No.2 can be seen on YouTube, using either the usual search or a link from the Amemptos website (, and shows Lloyd Buck to be a calm player with no unnecessary movement or mannerisms.

 The Scherzo Focoso has long been a notorious piece, very rarely performed and never recorded for CD.  Here the producers have made a daring decision:  instead of using the studio recording, which was thought to lack spontaneity, they have used a live recording from the pianist’s recital at the Royal Northern College of Music.  The result is a less good recorded sound and a sprinkling of inaccuracies, especially towards the end as fatigue sets in.  Whether the gain in excitement is worth it must be decided by each listener.  I have listened to the track a few times and I can tolerate the imperfections, but I am not sure yet whether it will stand the test of time.  However, it is excellent to hear this frighteningly difficult piece at last.  You can find the sheet music on the Internet, as well as some rather horrid-sounding “performances” from artificial non-human sources, and judge for yourself.

 The name of the record company comes from the Greek for “free from fault” and while that might claim too much for this CD occasionally, I can recommend it both to seasoned Alkanians and to those less familiar with his music.  Lloyd Buck is said to favour long takes in his recordings, as did Ronald Smith, and while some of the more difficult passages in the CD have the occasional slip, most of them will not be too disturbing.  The eight-page booklet has some good notes by Buck and the producer, Jon Bell.  Knowing that the booklet can represent a considerable part of production costs, I like the idea of adding further notes on the Internet, although they have yet to appear for this particular release.  It would be a pity if printed booklets were abandoned altogether in these days of digital downloads, and this seemed to be a good compromise.

 Amemptos may have released only six discs so far, but their one other piano recording, also by Lloyd Buck, is of music by Sergei Bortkiewicz, played on the piano owned by Rachmaninov which is now in the Holborne Museum, Bath.  It is clear that they have some bold ambitions, and I hope that the reviews and sales of their CDs will justify their enterprise.  At the moment the CD can be ordered from their website, address as above.  After the company has formally launched it, with, they hope, some good reviews, it should be available from the usual sources.


Peter Grove

Lloyd Buck's Recital at the Royal College of Music, 31st March 2006

A goodly contingent of (Alkan Society) members attended Lloyd Buck's recital, which in fact formed part of his final examination at the Royal College of Music. The programme chosen was challenging both in terms of interpretation and technique. Beginning with two Bach transcriptions - the Siciliano from the BWV 1001 Flute Sonata in Alkan's version, and the Prelude and Fugue BWV 543 in Liszt's - it continued with Mozart's E flat sonata K282 and Prokofiev's First Sonata, before ending with two very different examples of Alkan's music; the well-known Barcarolle from the Op. 65 Chants, and the hardly-ever performed Scherzo focoso, op. 34.

The two transcriptions, Alkan's pastoral in nature, Liszt's virtuosic - an alternation of character which ran through the recital - gave Buck the oppertunity to demonstrate from the start his thoughtful concern with textures and transparency, coupled with admirable fingerwork. Heroic as was his performance of the Prokofiev, the Mozart lingers longer in the mind, cool but sensitive.

The Scherzo focoso, Alkan's opus 34, was characterised by Ronald Smith as 'a remorseless path to pianistuc immolation for all but the most invincible techniques'; he surmises that it may have been originally intended for the minor key studies, op.39. This piece, extrodinarily obsessive even by it's composer's standards, is yet far more than a note-spinning virtuoso display. Alkan was clearly sensitive to many types of fire - as we can hear in the slightly comic L'incendie au aillage voisin of the op. 35 studies - and this piece also displays many varieties, from flickering flames to white hot intensity - apart from the implicit diabolic fires of the soul. Carrying this piece off is not just a challenge for the fingers.   The relentless pedal point of the closing pages, for example, tests the listener's tenacity to the limit, as well as the player's. Buck's performance was triumphant and won a correspondingly enthusiastic response from his audence.....Buck's exuberance, clear enthusiasm and immolation-proff technique fully justified his decision to make this the climax of his recital.

Extracted from the review of this performance by David Conway of the British Alkan Society -


Regarding the new CD - 'The Forgotton Romantic' - Keyboard Works of Sergei Bortkiewicz

"Wonderful playing ... listening to this CD makes it very clear that it is time to put this composer back onto the 'must be played' list" David Porcelijn


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