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Price:£7.99

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on 24 January 2004
This is a real curiosity: some of Alkan's early piano music rendered by "virtual pianist" Michael Nanasakov with a computer and a player piano, a combination which sometimes is truly successful, sometimes not at all. The recorded sound has ample ambience, but the tone is a bit too bright. I wonder how a Steinway would have sounded instead of the Yamaha Grand.
The reason for using a computer is that Alkan's piano music is atrociously difficult to play. The benefit is that all tempos can be taken exactly according to Alkan's notations. But since these tempos are so extreme, the music can at times take on an artificial flavour. One important value of this disc, however, is that it includes three pieces that have never been recorded before, the Andantes Op. 13. Marc-André Hamelin has recorded Op. 15, and I cannot imagine that any pianist or computer will ever be able to surpass his superb interpretation. However, Nanasakov produces a very decent interpretation, especially considering the written notes are devoid of any tempo indications and dynamics.
In my opinion the disc is worth buying for the first two minutes of the final Scherzo Op. 16 alone. For this piece to be at all effective requires the following: the action of the piano must be extremely light and fast; the pianist must have superhuman reflexes: a vast gradation of dynamics; a metronomic sense of rhythm, and above all stamina to get through its torrents of quavers and semiquavers. If all these conditions are met the result is a piece which has an impact like nothing else in the piano literature. Unfortunately the middle part of the piece sounds too artificial, which must be blamed on the programming. Nanasakov should have been added more subtle nuances, ritardandos and accelerandos. Also, the very ending must be slowed down and the final cord must have the greatest weight to make an efficient ending. Here Ronald Smith's excellent recording on EMI Double Forte comes to mind.
The final piece, Le Preux, shows just how impossible some of Alkan's pieces are to play for a mortal pianist, which is the very reason for their obscurity in the repertoire. This piece just sounds like a charicature here, and I very seriously doubt that any pianist would be able to change registers this fast. However, it really makes you believe in Liszt's words, that Alkan had the finest technique of any pianist he knew. And Liszt knew them all!
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