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“Piano Music: Volume 1”
Charles-Valentin Alkan: Symphonie pour piano seul, opus 39 n° s 4‑7 – Les Mois, opus 74

Igor Do Amaral (piano)
Recording: Oktaven Studio, Mt. Vernon, New York (June 27‑29, 2023) – 78’20
MSR Classics MS1851 – Booklet in English

Charles-Valentin Alkan was one of those Romantic composers who seemed to be scuttled to the sideline and, for long, greatly forgotten. Interestingly enough, the Parisian Romantic composer demonstrated virtuosic talents at a young age. Despite being a recluse and rarely traveling beyond the city’s outskirts, his output always centered around the keyboard which was known to be technically challenging. That’s not surprising since he was a contemporary of Chopin (and next door neighbor) and Liszt.

Following in the footsteps of earlier renowned performers, Macau‑born Igor Do Amaral’s Volume 1 tackles the complexities of two Alkan selections: the Symphony for Solo Piano, a segmented portion (n° s 4‑7) from Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs (1857) and the 1838 seasonally patchwork-themed 12 Morceaux caractéristiques, better known as Les Mois.

In a word, M. Do Amaral’s musical behavior centers around punctilious grandeur. Slightly reserved and poised by cautious indulgence, the opening C minor “Allegro moderato” audibly reveals a conservative Frédéric Chopin influence. When the more testy segments surface, Liszt can be mildly heard as well. Similarly, within the remaining three movements, elegant positions of polite control prevail which hold listeners’ attention in classical comfort. The pianist never over rushes phrasing, providing ample opportunity to insist on extending Alkan’s expressive beliefs of dramatic frisson with constraint. Igor Do Amaral’s tempos are polished and carefully chosen. In particular, the closing “Finale” (“Presto”) flourishes with tinkling precision.

While Charles-Valentin Alkan was known to be comical, humorous and affable, he also possessed a degree of eccentricity. This contrast seemingly forwards to the dozen works inside the mathematically-quartered Les Mois depicting a myriad of events, conditions, personages and structures. Themed-movements have justified placement and exemplify the composer’s innate sense of continuity. But some musical thoughts are creative, as found in “La Retraite” (“The Retreat”). M. Do Amaral crystallizes a magical spell across the keyboard with noble statement. One of the endearing moments commences inside “La Pâque” (“Passover”); waltz‑like equations beautifully drift along during the melodically plaintive-melancholic underpinnings of “La Sérénade”.

Chopin’s grasp is never far away; however, M. Alkan’s pronouncements are lyrically charming and exceedingly approachable. Closing in on the beginning of Autumn, M. Do Amaral’s pianistic expressions in “Les Moissonneurs” (“The Reapers”) have sparkling purity that float by with soufflé amiability. In great contrast, clarion calls abound in the anxiously-riddled notes within “L’Hallali”. The closing “L’Opéra” melodramatically “sings” aloud with Italianate melodramatic quality. M. Alkan virtually touches all emotional sectors in poignant flair, and it’s to Igor Do Amaral’s credit that he takes the time to clearly mark the importance of each one. It’s no surprise that Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel embraced the Parisian’s inventions as well.

Classical surprises are lifetime gifts...Igor Do Amaral does superb justice to illuminating the energy inside Charles‑Valentin Alkan’s music with impeccable distinction. We look forward to what lies ahead in the pianist’s subsequent volume. An exemplary issue.

Christie Grimstad




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