Monday, January 23, 2012

Alkan - Selections From 48 Esquisses For Piano

The name Charles Alkan conjures up piano pieces of staggering difficulty,  immense length and  musical depth. And rightly so, with his Concerto For Solo Piano and other works that display a musical mind capable of creating colossal tapestries of complexity. But Alkan also had another side to his genius, that of a miniaturist. The Esquisses are an excellent example of Alkan's ability to have his musical say in much shorter pieces.

The title translates as 'sketches' and the set contains 49 sketches of tremendous variety and mood. Many of the pieces are also playable by pianists with a less than concert hall technique. They are a perfect introduction to the diversity of Alkan's musical thought. Most of the sketches are short, some very short.  The entire set of 49 sketches (the title says there are 48, but there are 49) can be played in about 75 minutes, so that averages out to about a minute and a half for each piece. Alkan's shifting moods are dealt with as they arise, and when the mood has run its course the piece stops.  The entire set makes for a good listen, but I've narrowed it down to eight of my favorites from the set:

  • No.4 Les Cloches (The Bells) -  The piano begins with the tolling of bells that continues throughout.
  • No. 10 Increpatio (rebuke, harsh criticism) - The piano's harsh opinion. About what, we don't know. 
  • No. 16 Fantasia -  A rippling right hand runs a sprint, and the piece ends quickly.
  • No. 18 - Liedchen (ditty) - A simple song.
  • No.32 - Minuetto - Not really a minuet, but at the tempo of a minuet. The beginning is sad, with a middle section in a faster tempo and lighter mood.
  • No. 37 Scherzettino -  A piece played very fast.
  • No. 45 - Les Diablotins (little devils) - A short church chorale is interrupted by the demons. Each time the chorale is heard it is responded to , until the diablotin has the final word. 
  • No. 49 Laus Deo (praise God) - A solemn, slow,  beginning that reminds the ear of different pitched bells tolling together gives way to a more  reverent hymn. The bells return at the end.  

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