Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alkan - Le festin d'Ésope (Aesop's Feast)

Charles Alkan's set of etudes in all the minor keys is a work of staggering proportions. The first etude is a flurry of 16th note triplets and is named 'Like The Wind. Etudes four, five, six and seven are arranged as a four-movement symphony for piano solo, and if that isn't enough, etudes eight, nine and ten are arranged as a three-movement concerto for solo piano where the first movement is 72 pages long and takes 30 minutes to perform.

The last etude in the group is a set of 25 variations on an original 8-bar theme. The title of the piece implies that the variations could represent various fables of Aesop and depict the animals in the fables. There is no program or clue outside of the title of the piece however. It is up to the imagination of the listener to provide a 'picture' of the proceedings.

This set of variations acts as a culmination to what has gone before with the other eleven etudes. As the previous etudes have been far from simple piano pieces, this final one is really complex for the pianist. But Alkan's imagination has created a most engaging set of variations that will provide the imagination of the careful listener a tour de force of pianistic music making at its highest level.

The emotional, passionate and at times witty aspects of Alkan's music need to be stressed. It is not just music that can be difficult to play (although some of it most assuredly is) but it is the passion and intensity behind it that makes it so attractive. This is the case as well with his piano music that is not as difficult. His larger, more challenging works usually get the most attention, but he wrote a great many smaller, shorter pieces for piano and was a talented miniaturist as well.      

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