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On Hamelin's new Alkan CD the biggest piece is his most ostensibly 'classical' -- the Symphonie for solo piano, the four movements of which form numbers 4-7 of the minor-keyed etudes.

The keys of the four movements decline down the cycle of fifths from C to F to B flat to E flat minors. That the piano writing sounds convincingly orchestral makes it, of course, even more difficult to play than the glitteringly seductive Le Festin d'Aesope: though hardly more difficult than the 'Concerto' for solo piano that, taking up three more of the minor-keyed etudes, manages to differentiate between solo and tutti, and even illusorily to suggest their interlacing. As Hamelin plays it, the Symphonie reveals that the originality of the breath-taking conception lies in the irresistible momentum with which the material is deployed over vast spans. The first Allegro, which lasts ten-and-a-half minutes, promulgates a passion controlled with almost Beethovenian trenchancy; the funeral march that serves as a not very slow slow movement, is Berliozian in its synthesis of icy detachment with aristocratic allure; the 'Minuet' proves to be a frantically aggressive scherzo with an exquisitely dreamy trio-section, leaving us unsure whether reality or illusion is Truth; while the Presto finale, in dark E flat minor sounds, as Lewenthal first pointed out, like a galop to hell [listen -- track 4, 1:46-2:46]. Yet throughout, the inner vitality of the music exhilirates rather than depresses. The enigmatic Alkan helps us not only to withstand, but even to relish, the lure of danger, which is inherent in the word 'experience', deriving from the Latin ex periculo.

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Copyright © 1 December 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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