Movement 1: Allegro molto
Movement 2: Allegrettino
Movement 3: Adagio
Movement 4: Finale alla Saltarella: Prestissimo
One might be forgiven for wondering, after this commanding start, why Alkan’s works have a reputation for elusive eccentricity. All is revealed in the gentle second movement, where what begins as a simply lilting, even naive Siciliano tune gradually becomes infected with slightly twisted ‘wrong’ notes, and even more peculiarly biting harmonies. The music begins slowly to sound like a knowing satire on itself. By the close, it might seem that any naivety around is certainly not Alkan’s—a very postmodern feature indeed. Moscheles would no doubt have been aghast. Corrosive irony is fortunately completely absent from the rapt Adagio that follows, prefaced in the score by a quote from the Old Testament book of Micah: ‘As dew from the Lord, as a shower upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man …’. Alkan, a talented Hebraicist who made his own attempt to translate the entire Bible, offers this superscript in what is likely his own French version. The mystical music alternates a heartfelt melody in the lower register of the cello with shimmering passages of measured tremolando in the piano, eventually fading away in a distant pianissimo for both instruments. The rapture is rudely modified with the start of the manic Finale alla Saltarella, a furiously fast dance movement in sonata-rondo form. Such dances—the Saltarella and its sister the Tarantella—were something of a fad in France, their progenitor being the celebrated Tarantella in Auber’s opera La muette de Portici. Legend had it that those bitten by the Tarantula spider danced themselves to death in a frenzy, and Alkan’s splendidly energetic finale seems to take that as its starting point—just stopping short, one hopes, of a decisively fatal effect on either executants or audience.
from notes by Kenneth Hamilton © 2008