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Hyperion Records

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The Kiss of the Vampire (1916) by Boleslas Biegas (1877-1954)
Collection privée, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67569
Recording details: February 2006
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Andrés Villalta
Release date: September 2007
Total duration: 49 minutes 23 seconds

'A performance of the Concerto of such brilliance and lucidity that one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan's bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration … You can only marvel at such a unique mix of blazing if nonchalantly deployed virtuosity and poetic conviction … All of this is superly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan's mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin's' (Gramophone)

'This intelligent and magnificently-played programme, displaying contrasting sides of the composer's personality … The Concerto is an engrossing musical journey, ranging from hushed chorale textures to the dizzying cascades of notes that make an orchestra entirely superfluous … The performance is stunning. Aside from over a decade's more experience, Hamelin now has the benefit of Hyperion's stunning recorded sound … As for the performance, if anyone can play it better, expect to see the devil as their agent. It is not simply that Hamelin can negotiate the ferocious technical challenges. Like a great ballet dancer, he maintaines a clarity and beauty of line, so that the shape of the music is always clear and seems natural, however unnatural the demands made by Alkan … This is playing of the highest order in music that should be at the heart of the Romantic repertoire' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hamelin's playing here is as breathtaking as ever—it is hard to believe that a lot of it is humanly possible—but, more than simply a dazzling panoply of notes, it conveys a deep musical and expressive range' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The sheer keyboard brilliance of Hamelin's playing is exceptional. The breathtaking clarity with which he articulates even the most ferocious passages, while unerringly projecting melodic shapes that are often obscured under welters of notes, never fails to dazzle, and the way in which he sustains the huge first movement of the Concerto so that each discursive paragraph seems a natural consequence of what precedes it is a triumph of pure musical will' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin deserves an Olympic gold medal for this extreme musical sport: I doubt that any other living pianist could carry off the work with such secure bedazzlement, not to mention infusing it with refulgent tone and downright charm' (Classic FM Magazine)

'One of the supreme examples of pianistic agility in the catalog … The nocturnal slow movement is especially powerful here, its harmonies superbly weighted, its more dramatic moments tinged with a subtle melodramatic chill … Hyperion's sound is excellent too. Highest recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

'The Alkan concerto is played to stunning perfection. When you listen to Hamelin play the most horrendously tricky keyboard acrobatics, it's as natural as being in a Ferrari with Michael Schumacher as your driver—exciting, but you know you're in good hands. We know Hamelin can not go wrong' (Pianist)

'It's great stuff and it's almost impossible to play. Of course, to Marc-André Hamelin everything is possible; he sails through the fiendish passages with incredible ease and panache. The man is not only a world-class artist but possibly the greatest-ever acrobat of the keyboard. The speed, articulation, and clarity of his finger work are simply beyond belief, and at the same time the music keeps singing regardless of the complications' (The Audio Critic, USA, USA)

'No piano lover should miss this absolutely transcendent, watershed release' (

'It is an axiom of classical recording that there is no such thing as a Hamelin disc that is anything less than compelling and fascinating. He is the most impressive combination of technique, intellect and fearlessness … The music here is wild, untrammelled and gorgeous and always so dauntingly played that, at times, it defies belief' (The Buffalo News, USA)

'Incredibly, Hamelin not only holds this massive work together but also makes it a satisfying musical experience … Hamelin scores with immaculate pianism and, in the lyric pieces, a deceptive simplicity' (The Absolute Sound, USA)

'Bien que l'oeuvre soit extraite d'un recueil d'Etudes, Hamelin n'en fait pas une démonstration technique; il l'aborde avec infiniment de poésie, faite d'inflexions bien senties et de nuances subtiles. De la part d'un pianiste dont on connaît l'enthousiasme pour la délirante inspiration du compositeur, cela semblerait presque naturel… mais cette évidence ne doit pas faire oublier avec quelle noble allure l'interprète se joue des innombrables pièges que pose la partition … Quant aux l'autres… ils écouteront sans doute à genoux 'intégralité de ce CD' (Diapason, France)

Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op 39

Other recordings available for download
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
After the setback when he failed to gain the post of professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire as Zimmerman’s successor, Alkan again began to withdraw more and more from public life. In 1857, Richault brought out an entire collection of exceptional works which included Alkan’s magnum opus, the twelve Etudes dans tous les tons mineurs, Op 39, dedicated to the Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis, who wrote: ‘this work is a real epic for the piano’. The huge collection sums up all the composer’s pianistic and compositional daring and it comprises some of his most famous works, none more so, perhaps, than Le Festin d’Esope, a set of variations which completes the cycle. We find here the famous Concerto for solo piano, of which the first movement alone is one of the great monuments of the piano repertoire, and the Symphony for solo piano, which constitutes studies 4 to 7 and is written on a far more ‘reasonable’ scale.

The lack of cohesion which might result from the progressive tonality of its four movements is compensated for by the many skilfully concealed, interrelated themes, all examined in great detail by several writers, among them being Larry Sitsky and Ronald Smith. One could discuss ad infinitum the orchestral quality of pianistic writing, particularly in the case of composers like Alkan and Liszt who, moreover, made numerous successful transcriptions. Harold Truscott seems to sum up the matter very well in saying that what one labels ‘orchestral’ within piano music is most often ‘pianistic’ writing of great quality applied to a work of huge dimensions which on further investigation turns out to be extremely difficult to orchestrate.

Jose Vianna da Motta found just the right words to describe the vast first movement of this symphony: ‘Alkan demonstrates his brilliant understanding of this form in the first movement of the Symphony (the fourth Study). The structure of the piece is as perfect, and its proportions as harmonious, as those of a movement in a symphony by Mendelssohn, but the whole is dominated by a deeply passionate mood. The tonalities are so carefully calculated and developed that anyone listening to it can relate each note to an orchestral sound; and yet it is not just through the sonority that the orchestra is painted and becomes tangible, but equally through the style and the way that the polyphony is handled. The very art of composition is transformed in this work’.

The second movement consists of a Funeral March in F minor, rather Mahlerian in style. In the original edition the title page read ‘Symphonie: No 2. Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Uomo da bene’, words which have sadly been lost in all subsequent editions. Of course one is reminded of the subtitle of the ‘Marcia funebre’ in Beethoven’s third symphony. But might we not regard this ‘uomo da bene’ as Alkan’s father, Alkan Morhange, who died in 1855, two years before these studies were published?

The Minuet in B flat minor is in fact a scherzo that anticipates shades of Bruckner—full of energy and brightened by a lyrical trio. The final Presto in E flat minor, memorably described by Raymond Lewenthal as a ‘ride in hell’, brings the work to a breathless close.

The Symphony does not contain the excesses of the Concerto or the Grande Sonate. But, rather like the Sonatine Op 61, it proves that Alkan was also capable of writing perfectly balanced and almost ‘Classical’ works.

from notes by François Luguenot © 2001
English: Ansy Boothroyd

Other albums featuring this work
'Alkan: Symphony for solo piano' (CDA67218)
Alkan: Symphony for solo piano
'Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope' (CDA66794)
Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope

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