Alkan, Douze Etudes dans les tons mineurs, Opus 39

Stephanie McCallum<


Twelve etudes in the minor keys, Op. 39 CD1 I. Comme le vent II. En rythme molossique III.Scherzo diabolico Symphonie for Piano Solo IV. Allegro V. Marche Funèbre VI. Menuet VII. Finale CD2 Concerto for Piano Solo VIII. Allegro assai IX. Adagio X. Allegro alla barbaresca XI. Ouverture XII. Le Festin d'Esope

In his notes for this disc, distinguished scholar and Alkan expert, Hugh Macdonald, describes Alkan's Studies in the Minor Keys as "the Alps and Himalayas of pianism, the one superimposed on the other...There can hardly be dispute, however, over the greatness of these Douze études dans les tons mineurs and their prodigious achievement. Defying normal pianistic moderation and rarely played, they are like a huge submerged ship whose immensity can only be grasped when from time to time the waters recede. This recording gives us a splendidly clear and thrilling picture of the whole vessel." The set of studies includes a four-movement Symphonie for piano solo and a massive three-movement Concerto for Piano Solo, the thirty-minute first movement of which is one of the most demanding and impressive piano works of the nineteenth century. More like a conventional study is the breathlessly fast, Comme le vent, while the final study, the darkly witty and demonically difficult set of variations, Le Festin d'Esope has come to be one of Alkan's most popular works.


CD: Recording of the Month. Musicweb International. March 2007.

"First, we need to get the ‘Guinness Book of World Records” aspect out of the way. With this recording Stephanie McCallum becomes the first person in the world to record the complete Alkan Études Opp. 35 and 39, having recorded the Op. 35 major-key études in 1995. Secondly, it must be said that all the descriptors usually applied to Alkan’s music: virtuosic, formidable, super-human - could as easily be applied to Ms. McCallum’s performances on these discs. Thirdly, like Liszt’s Transcendental Études, the Alkan études can be listened to in part, but yield new emotional and structural values when listened to as a whole.

William Kreindler. (click here for full review).

‘Stephanie McCallum has once again proved herself as a pianist whose musical versatility and fearless virtuosity is matched only by her steely-fingered, powerful technique…This is coruscating pianism…There is never a sense of virtuosity for its own sake with McCallum’s playing. Her technique matches that required to make the music work which is in itself a phenomenal undertaking. The hurdles to be overcome and the risks to be taken are so immense that I suspect that is why many pianists don’t even attempt this repertoire.

This is a CD that no lover of piano music should ever be without.’ – Mike Smith. 2MBS fineMUSIC. Jan.2006.

‘A tour de force’ – David Hood, Libretto. Dec’06-Jan’07 issue.

‘’…elle laisse toujours la musique s’épanouir, chanter, elle possède un talent étonnant pour relever un détail, un contrechant, sans jamais souffrir la ligne générale. Ce qui fait que même les pièces qui tournent plus facilement à l’exploit vide, telles Comme le Vent ou l’Ouverture, sont ici gorgées de musique…Stephanie sait magistralement renouveler l’approche de cette fresque inégalée, ce qui prouve assez sa richesse – qui en doute encore? – et l’immense talent de l’interprète.” – Francois Luguenot. Bulletin de la Societe Alkan No.68 July 2006.