Alkan Piano Concerto Feofanov Naxos 8553702

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2000 and the recording is still available.

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888)
Piano Concerto, Op 39
Concerto da Camera No 1, Op 10
Concerto da Camera No 2
Concerto da Camera No 3 (recon. Hugh Macdonald)
Dmitri Feofanov (piano)
Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra/Robert Stankovsky
rec. 1995, Bratislava, Slovakia
Naxos 8.553702 [52]

Alkan is still a somewhat peripheral figure. I remember listening with passing interest to an EMI single LP of an Alkan recital played by Ronald Smith in the early 1970s. He has intruded hardly at all into my musical experience since then. Now along comes this disc courtesy of Colin Scott Sutherland – who, I must declare, was not impressed with the music.

First of all (and rather oddly) I pay tribute to the detailed notes by Alan Ho, Hugh Macdonald and Dmitri Feofanov. You could hardly ask for much more, although I do wish it had been easier to find a date for each concerto. The notes are excellent, extensive and informative. They make a really good read.

Stylistically the music is best thought of as being in the same compartment as the concertos of Liszt, John Field and Chopin. There is even a touch of the keyboard tricks the fortunate amongst us recognise from the much later Scriabin piano concerto.

The Alkan Piano Concerto is an orchestration by Karl Klindworth of the three Op 39 Etudes referred to collectively by Alkan as ‘Concerto’. These are Etudes 8 to 10 of the Op 39 set. In Alkan’s lifetime the Concerto was never played complete and when it was played it was in excerpts. Thus the Portuguese virtuoso, Jose Vianna da Motta (whose symphony has been reviewed on this site and whose piano concerto is soon to be released by Hyperion) performed the first movement in Berlin in 1903. Think of the orchestral treatment as an extension of Tchaikovsky’s early symphonies (particularly No 3) and add in a perpetually strenuous piano part typical of the high-flown romantic genre – rolling pearly runs of notes, clangorous heroism and gently reflective soliloquising. I find it difficult to say much more about the three concerti da camera. They are pretty much the same as the Concerto. The stand-out star here is the truly lovely andante con moto Concerto da Camera No 3. Its thematic material bears quite a resemblance to the concentrated spell created by the less obviously demonstrative sections of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. If you are looking for just over five minutes of ideally balanced mood music then look no further. The disc ends with the least impressive work: the first concerto da camera. It marks time pleasantly, as if an epigone of Beethoven’s first piano concerto.

This is a nice production all round and one that romantic era piano fanciers will have to have. Feofanov delights in music with which, going by his notes, he is in close sympathy. All this is at super-bargain price. Naxos are surreptitiously building their own romantic piano concerto series to vie with Genesis, Vox’s seven boxed sets and the de luxe Hyperion series.

Rob Barnett

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