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For Alkan, Mark Viner is the keeper of the flame: as chairman of the UK’s Alkan Society he is currently engaged in recording Alkan’s complete piano works in a 17-CD series. His extensive liner notes for this latest instalment give as much background as any Alkan fan could wish.

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) was a child prodigy who was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire aged six, and went on to become a close friend of his coevals Liszt and Chopin; he had a career as a virtuoso, but spent the second half of his life in increasingly deep seclusion.

The two works on this album reflect him in quintessential form. One doesn’t have to buy into Viner’s admiration for the Grande Sonate to agree that it’s an extraordinary work, whose meaning is encapsulated in a literary scheme intended to reflect the four ages of man. Its whirling start – delivered with immaculate brilliance by Viner – is followed by a movement full of empty effects and flourishes, but its third movement – with echoes of Liszt, Beethoven and Chopin – has lyrical grace, and the finale exudes darkly ominous power. The Trois morceaux are, as Viner argues, a remarkable achievement for a 21-year-old, and they too have their charms. For Alkan fans this is required listening.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica


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