12 Études d’Orgue ou de Piano à Pedales pour les Pieds seulement [Numbers 1-6]
11 Grands Préludes et 1 Transcription du Messie de Handel, Op.66
Kevin Bowyer (Organ of Blackburn Cathedral)
Recorded on 15 & 16 May 2005
CD No: TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0030 Duration: 76 minutes Reviewed: November 2005
Alkan Organ Works (Volume 1)
Reviewed by Morgan Hayes
The nine-minute Benedictus, which opens this release, is worth the price of the disc alone: churning ostinatos from sepulchral depth alternate with an exquisite soaring melody. It’s one of Alkan’s finest creations and I can’t imagine a better introduction to this composer’s singular musical language.
For the most part, the barnstorming virtuoso aspect of Alkan (familiar from many of his piano works) recedes into the distance throwing into relief his ingenious melodic gift – whether it’s the visionary 'Langsam', the ninth of the 11 Grands Préludes, or the brusque contortions of the first of the Études. Wherever one turns there’s something to keep the ear alert or, in some instances, puzzled. For example, the wild nature of Prélude No.10 seems somewhat blurred on the organ, as if witnessed on some flickering silent movie, and was likened by one of Alkan’s greatest champions, the pianist Ronald Smith, to a Cossack dance.
The ever-enterprising Kevin Bowyer is more than up to the exacting demands of the outlandish pedal writing in the Études (ultra-deft figuration and four-note chords!) while being careful not to gloss over the awkwardness which is intrinsic to the appeal of so much of this music.
It’s abundantly clear that the Organ Works of Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88) are an essential part of the repertoire – that they have barely made a foothold is utterly astonishing. One can only hope that this CD (all are first recordings) will correct this terrible oversight. The excellent and extensive booklet note by Malcolm MacDonald proves a useful guide. Toccata Classics plans two more issues of Alkan’s organ music – both are eagerly anticipated.