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Thus far in his bicentenary, there have been pitifully few pianists celebrating the birth of Alkan. This year is also the 125th anniversary of his death. Neither of these milestones has much bothered the major labels. So it’s a pleasure to welcome this disc, which might serve as an introduction to Alkan’s multi-faceted genius. Pascal Amoyel opens with a poised, sensitive account of the heart-melting Nocturne Op 22, the equal of anything Chopin wrote and whose two themes are ingeniously combined in the final pages. Alkan the miniaturist is heard in the Barcarolle from Book 3 of Chants, the desolate ‘song of the mad woman on the seashore’ from the 25 Preludes – superbly handled by Amoyel – and three of the 48 brief Esquisses, Op 63, which sometimes reflect the music of the era and elsewhere prefigure that of Satie and Debussy. At the centre of this recital is one of Alkan’s large-scale masterpieces, the Grande Sonate ‘Les Quatre Âges’, each movement depicting a different stage in man’s life (they are headed 20, 30, 40 and 50 years). It begins with a fast movement, followed by three in progressively slower tempos. It’s an extraordinary musical journey – well recorded, incidentally – and played with commendable assurance and understanding. But Amoyel cannot compete with Marc-André Hamelin, whose superior technique enables him to make the ‘20 ans’ man a skittish, empty-headed young blade and attack the appallingly diffi cult second movement with terrifying bravura, not missing one of Alkan’s myriad expressive instructions.

JEREMY NICHOLAS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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