ALKAN: Super flumina Babylonis. Symphonie for Solo Piano. Grande Sonate pour piano / Yury Favorin, pno / Muso MU-022
Young Russian pianist (32 years old) Yuri Favorin, a pupil of Lidiya Grigorieva in piano, Ivan Mozgovenko in clarinet and Vladimir Dovgan in composition, here takes his licks on the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan, and not just any pieces. Oh, no; Favorin has chosen for this release the three most difficult of all his pieces: Super flumina Babylonis and both the Symphony and Grande Sonate for solo piano. In doing so, he goes up against some of the most formidable Alkan pianists of all time, among them Raymond Lewenthal, Marc-André Hamelin, Vincenzo Maltempo and Laurent Martin.
Much to my surprise, Favorin plays these pieces with great sensitivity and nuance. Although, in my own personal opinion, no one played or plays Alkan quite as well as Lewenthal did way back when and Maltempo does today, I was smitten by Favorin’s lyrical style, somewhat liked Bernard Ringeissen (an Alkan specialist whose recordings have, for whatever reason, dropped out of sight and out of favor) but with less pedal. Ringeissen’s overuse of pedal effects was the one thing I didn’t care for in his otherwise very fine readings of Alkan’s music.
Indeed, Favorin’s lyrical approach imbues not only the soft passages but also those incredibly dense, fast ones that are the bane of so many pianists not named Lewenthal, Hamelin or Maltempo. Moreover, his way of integrating these more florid passages into the evolving fabric of the music is almost magical, creating a unified whole were others—even, at times, Maltempo, and certainly Hamelin—tend to make a sharp contrast between these different moods and sections.
This is especially evident in the large-scale works. The Symphonie is part of Alkan’s massive set of 12 Études in the Minor Keys, which includes the Concerto for Solo Piano (three movements), Comme le vent, En rhythme molossique, Scherzo diabolico, the Ouverture in b minor and Le Festin d’Ésope. How I would like to hear him play all the rest of these pieces! In Favorin’s skilled hands (and mind), the Symphonie has a real symphonic feel about it—one can almost hear it orchestrated, the way he plays it. I would rank it up there with Maltempo’s recording, and to be honest, I prefer both of them to Hamelin in this work. His way of “bouncing” the syncopations in the score makes perfect sense and enhances the passages which precede and follow those. His pacing of the second movement, “Marcia funèbre: Andantino” is perfect, and he makes the transition from minor to major effective by means of a carefully-judged rubato. In the finale, he makes Alkan’s “charnel house of notes” (as one critic unkindly referred to them) make perfect musical sense. He does, however, play with exuberance when the music calls for it; in the third movement of the Symphonie he clearly knows how to make a contrast, and the last movement is played in a perpetuo moto fashion, but he doesn’t overdo the drama though he plays each note and phrase with the proper dynamics.
Favorin also understands the underlying meaning of the Concerto, which is subtitled “The Four Ages of Life.” The four movements are titled “20 Years Old,” “30 Years Old,” “40 Years Old” and “50 Years Old.” Since Alkan lived to age 74, I’m a little surprised he didn’t write further pieces (perhaps separate ones) continuing his life cycle. Especially in the first two movements, Favorin produces a whirlwind of sound, but not quite with the glibness of Hamelin (a superb virtuoso but not always a sensitive interpreter). In places, he had me on the edge of my seat, yet continued to maintain his ability to pull the disparate parts of the score together better than anyone except Lewenthal of sainted memory. By doing so, he is able to build the music to tremendous climaxes while making the transitions sound gradual rather than having a steamroller come in and plow the notes up into a heap of sound. I know it’s hard to put a musical concept into words, but I hope the reader can understand how much I liked his approach. In the third movement he again introduces some rubato to slightly (and I stress the word slightly) emphasize some of the harmonic transitions, and again they make sense and perk up the listener’s ears.
Young Favorin clearly has a ton of talent; this is clearly one of the best Alkan CDs I’ve ever heard in my life. I give it six fish!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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