Vincenzo Maltempo(Piano Classics)
Alkan's hyperbolic piano music has always seemed an acquired taste. Monumental in its scale and ambition, and vociferously championed by its supporters, it's too often disappointing in performance, with little to show for the huge virtuoso effort involved in playing it. But Vincenzo Maltempo pairs two of Alkan's best-known works, the programmatic Op 33 Sonata, Les Quatre Ages, and the four pieces from the 12 Studies in the Minor Keys Op 39 that make up his solo-piano Symphony, and reveals them as music of great lyrical beauty. Maltempo does not attempt to disguise the more derivative passages (Chopin is regularly invoked and Liszt sometimes anticipated, while the first movement of the Symphony worries away at a theme from Schumann's Op 17 Fantasy), he plays them all with such conviction and poise that the music seems totally of a piece. There's no flinching from the most extreme technical demands – the fiendish second movement of the Sonata, Quasi Faust, is triumphantly negotiated – and the sheer strangeness and power of the invention is given free rein. Exhilarating, and a real revelation.
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