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ALKAN // Piano Sonata “Les 4 âges”

Pascal Amoyel,

One of the great forgotten figures in the history of music, a man admired by Liszt, nicknamed «the Berlioz of the piano» by Hans von Bülow, is undoubtedly Charles-Valentin Alkan, the best-kept secret of French Romanticism, the composer of solitary and impassioned souls.

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An exceptionally gifted and vulnerable virtuoso piano, he was a demanding and inventive composer, a tormented artist who produced a kaleidoscopic and passionate body of work. Alkan is fascinating because of the mystery that still shrouds his life and his work; after a spectacular early career, he withdrew from society, taking refuge in his inner world.

«I wanted to showcase all the composer’s facets, in a multifaceted way. The Grande Sonate Les quatre âges, is a colossal, gigantic work, a sort of romantic ideal of the sonata, which undoubtedly influenced Liszt’s. As a counterpart to this great work, I selected shorter pieces, like the Esquisses, which show a composer who could capture a moment in time. And then I also selected a number of pieces that are both visionary and «anchored» in their era. The Barcarolle is reminiscent of Mendelssohn and prefigures Satie, as with les Soupirs for Scriabine and even Debussy. While the Nocturne is similar to Chopin’s opus 32, Les Cloches and the Prélude La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer illustrate Alkan’s fascination with realism, everyday life, the strange and the extraordinary.»

Pascal Amoyel

Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)

 

  • Nocturne Op.22 in B Major 05’50
  • Barcarolle op.65 n°6 04’13
  • Chanson de la folle au bord de la mer, op.31 n°8 05’22

 

Grande Sonate, op.33 “Les 4 âges”

 

  • 20 ans – Très vite 07’20
  • 30 ans – Quasi Faust. Assez vite 15’30
  • 40 ans – Un heureux ménage. Lentement 12’31
  • 50 ans – Prométhée enchaîné. Extrêmement lent 10’20

 

3 Esquisses, op.63 (Book I)

 

  • “Les Cloches”, op.63 n°4 01’06
  • “La Vision”, op.63 n°1 03’10
  • “Les Soupirs”, op.63 n°11 02’01

 

« AN IMPRESSIVE SOUND » - BBCMusic

Pascal Amoyel celebrates Alkan’s bicentenary in style with the remarkable Grande Sonate and some fascinating and sublime miniatures.

« AN EXTRAORDINARY MUSICAL JOURNEY » - International Piano

Pascal Amoyel opens with a poised, sensitive account of the heart-melting Nocturne Op. 22… At the centre of this recital is one of Alkan’s large-scale masterpieces, the Grande Sonate “Les Quatre Ages”… an extraordinary musical journey – well recorded, incidentally – and played with commendable assurance and understanding.

Spoiler title

Pascal Amoyel gives us a lightweight rather than necessarily overwhelming experience.

« A REMARKABLY IMPRESSIVE MUSIC » - International Record Review

There is some remarkably impressive music in (the Grande Sonate), of which Pascal Amoyel has the full measure, both intellectually and technically, and for this listener he has made a much more convincing case for it as a whole than some previous interpreters who have come my way… I have really been bowled over by the music here, and Amoyel’s performance of it.

« PASCAL AMOYEL OFFERS US A MILESTONE IN THE ALKAN DISCOGRAPHY (LA DOLCE VOLTA) » - Grego Applegate Edwards

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) shot like a meteor through Europe as a brilliant virtuoso on the piano in his younger years, then abruptly disappeared from the public eye. His was a tortured soul and he no longer wished to concertize. He continued to compose, however, leaving behind him at his death a body of works for the piano that are alternatingly heart rendingly lyrical and explosively virtuosic.
His fate was to leave this earth unrecognized. But as time passes, sometimes genius overcomes obscurity. In the late ’60s-early ’70s his music began to be heard through the championship of Raymond Lewenthal and others. Recordings appeared. I for one discovered his music in this way sometime in the mid-’70s and have revelled in it ever since.
He was like Franz Liszt a Promethean composer of enormous pianistic difficulty from the technical side. He left no school of followers versed by the master in the intricacies of performance. He had to be learned anew. The fact that his music is at times romantic yet entirely idiosyncratic meant that mastering his music was an enormous task. And like the Bartok String Quartets (as I mentioned last month) it may be that it has taken a number of years for the Alkan piano oeuvre to become “normalized”, readily understood if only by a few select pianists.
If that is so Pascal Amoyel is surely one. His CD of Alkan’s Oeuvres Pour Piano (la dolce volta 11) gives us a wonderful collection of some of the Master’s works played with the passion and sensitivity of one who really understands the “inner” Alkan, to my mind. Five major works appear on the disk, including the monumental “Grande Sonate, op. 33 ‘Les 4 ages’”.
The music is entirely brilliant, some of the very best Alkan you can hear. Maestro Amoyel has chosen wisely and carefully so that the most tender of the lyrical side of Charles-Valentin is on display as well as the tempestuous virtuoso side. Pascal Amoyel handles both sides with an extraordinary musicality and sensitivity to nuance that I must say it is almost like hearing Alkan for the first time. Every part has its place in the whole; the whole comes through with glowing clarity and totally appropriate expressivity. If there is a somewhat eccentric side to Alkan, Amoyel makes it speak with total lucidity, gives it an inevitability, an affectionate familiarity, makes it understandable for anyone who listens attentively. And so far as the more recognizably Jewish strains of Alkan’s music, no one understands how that fits in better than Maestro Amoyel. Several listens made that all clear to me. Several more confirmed it.
This is a milestone in the Alkan discography. I know of no better performances of these works. For those who do not know Alkan, here indeed is where to start. For those that do, here is where it all comes together. I hope this recording will do much to convince listeners of Alkan’s genius. He was extraordinary and Pascal Amoyel makes the most convincing case I’ve heard why that is so.

In 2010, Pascal Amoyel received the Grand Prix du Disque awarded by the Warszawa Chopin Society for his recording of the complete Nocturnes by Chopin. Le magazine Classica acclaimed it as “a miracle we didn’t dare hope for: merely an ideal version, that we listen to, transfixed, in state of weightlessness, thrilled, in the strongest sense of the term, by so much beauty…” In 2009, this same magazine selected his interpretation of Liszt’s Funérailles as one of the four best ever. references. Two years earlier, his recording of Liszt’s Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses was chosen by the TVstationArte as one of the five best albums of the year.

An exceptional figure, Pascal Amoyel was born in 1971 and was introduced to thepublic in 2005, when he was awarded “Solo Instrumental Discovery of the Year” at the Victoires de la Musiques. He is also a composer, and 2010 winner of the Fondation d’Entreprise Banque Populaire. He is the artistic director of the Notes d’Automne Festival that he created at Perreux-sur-Marne.

He performs recitals in major theaters throughout Europe—the Berlin Philharmonic, CIté de la Musique, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam—in the United States, Canada, Russia, China and Japan, and as a soloist with the Orchestre de Paris (with a DVD recording), the Orchestre National de Lille, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, Symphony Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio, the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, theWuhan Philharmonic Orchestra …

He also received the Premier Grand Prix International“Arts-Deux Magots,” awarded to“a musician demonstrating openness and generosity.” Amoyel was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

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