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<<  -- 2 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


Today, Alkan's main advocates have been the pianists Raymond Lewenthal and Ronald Smith, both of whom have the necessary prodigious technique, allied to the equally necessary intellectual stamina and emotional adventurousness; Ronald Smith has further advanced the cause by writing a book in two volumes (one on the Life and the other on the Works) which defines precisely the 'prodigious' quality of Alkan's music without being daunted by it; the claims he makes for Alkan are justified, the more so because he is not afraid to admit that some of Alkan's music, composed with fecundity, may momently look, and even sound, banal. All of it, however, is tinged with sudden startlements that make the scalp prickle; and Smith is on the mark in calling Alkan a 'subversive conservationist', at once the most wildly revolutionary and the most traditional of the great romantic pianist-composers. He is a superb contrapuntist in baroque tradition, and an heir to Haydn in his classical command of symphonic argument, and to Beethoven in his 'morphological' approach to large-scale forms, as well as in his partiality for gritty textures and for the abrupt punch-line and sudden reversal. Among his immediate contemporaries he is closest to Berlioz, who also 'does coolly the things that are most fiery'; it may be the fusion of this aristocratic French poise with Jewish cabbalistic fervour that defines Alkan's unique savour -- simultaneously wry and visionary, acrid and sumptuous, religious and Mephistophelian.

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Copyright © 1 December 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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