Lloyd recorded ‘Adventures with Alkan’, a CD of solo piano music by Alkan, with Amemptos Music. It includes two premiere recordings, one of which being the legendary ‘Scherzo Focoso’, thought for many years to be virtually unplayable.
Charles Valentin Alkan – composer, legendary pianist and friend of both Chopin and Liszt, is here represented by a CD which includes two first recordings: Fantasticheria and the Scherzo Focoso Op.34. Believed to have originally been intended as the 11th Minor Key Study in Op.39, the Scherzo was later published as a single work. Described by Ronald Smith as ‘a remorseless path to pianistuc immolation for all but the most invincible techniques’, it has here been recorded as a single ‘straight-take’, and captures Alkan at his most dynamic. The other works are also Alkan rarities, many having had only one previous recording, which is long since deleted. They are a mixture of the lyrical, expressive and fiery, and will appeal to all lovers of 19th century piano repertoire.
- ‘Quasi Caccia’ – Caprice Op 53
- Impromptu in F#
- Fantasticheria (first recording)
- Bourrée d’Auvergne Op 29
Esquisses Op 63
- No. 4 – Les Cloches
- No. 5 – Quasi Coro
- No. 8 – Pseudo-Naïveté
- No. 20 – Morituri te salutant
- No. 21 – Innocenza
Trois Andantes Romantiques Op 13
- No. 1
- No. 2
- No. 3
- Scherzo Focoso Op 34 (first recording)
Purchase CD: Adventures with Alkan
The cost of the CD is £12.99 plus postage and packaging.
… with £1.20 postage and packaging to UK, total £14.19.
… with £3.50 postage and packaging to Eire and Europe, total £16.49.
… with £4.70 postage and packaging to the rest of the world, total £17.69.
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Also available from https://www.amemptosmusic.co.uk/cds.html
Review of Adventures with Alkan, recorded by Lloyd Buck
“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 (www.amemptosmusic.co.uk), 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, 2011