But amid the difficulty lies a depth of musical feeling and expression that is Romantic to its core. They are true etudes in the Chopin sense in that they are expressions of a very talented, musical mind. The complexities are part of the effect of the music, not an end in themselves. That not every musician can 'bring off' Alkan's compositions is no doubt true. No musician can do justice to all composers. But the pianist that has a virtuoso's technique that is used for the sake of music expression, can reveal to the listener a composer of great power, tenderness and originality.
The 'Overture' of Opus 39 is the eleventh etude. Like etudes 4-7 (the 'Symphony For Piano
Solo') and etudes 8-10 (The 'Concerto For Piano Solo') number eleven is orchestral in feeling and writing. It begins with rapid minor chords in both hands with the bass punctuating the tonality in octaves. There is a slight slackening of the intensity, and the rapid chords come forth once again. The music winds down to winds down to a pensive calmness. Once more the rumbling octaves in the bass quietly remind the listener of the beginning, then a section of very tender melody in the major comes to the fore and is expanded and varied. The next section is impassioned music that vaguely reminds my ear of the opening in feeling. It segues into a rippling statement of octaves in the right hand. This sections ends with chords and octaves up and down the keyboard until the music turns more quiet and ominous, then builds back to the octaves and chords. It alternates between the two until it reaches the last statement of the quiet and ominous. This leads to the coda, a brilliant theme in the major that rounds off the work.
Gibbons was involved in a near fatal auto accident in 2001 with a subsequent long recovery. There was some question whether he would be able to play the piano again, but he returned to piano playing and gave the first performance in Carnegie Hall of Alkan's Symphony For Piano Solo in 2007. He continues to give recitals and appears as soloist with orchestras, along with composing. He is one of my favorite pianists, and his recovery from his accident is an inspirational story.