The Alkan revival had only started in the 1960s and much ground had been covered on behalf of Alkan’s once neglected piano music in terms of recordings that one might wonder why it has taken so long for his organ music to receive similar attention. Wonder no more, as Toccata Classics has embarked on a quest to bring these arcane and enigmatic pieces from darkness into the light. Admittedly, these are not very many in number, and most were not written specifically for the organ but for the Pédalier, an obscure mid-nineteenth century instrument that was as a piano outfitted with a rank of pedals. Even by 1900, the Pédalier was history, and Portuguese virtuoso José Vianna da Motta attempted to restore these works to the realm of playability through transcribing them for standard piano; that is how Ferruccio Busoni first heard them. Busoni singled out Alkan’s Benedictus in D minor, Op. 54, as being the best of the lot. Kevin Bowyer’s excellent performance on this disc brings out the Mephistophelian qualities that likely appealed to Busoni — the piece is both messianic and demonic, an alchemical concoction that could only have arisen from the pen of a figure as secretive and obscure as Alkan. Much of the disc conforms to this mode of expression, through the 12 Études and 11 Grands Préludes to follow, some of which have ridiculously difficult technical challenges. Occasionally the music settles into a devotional manner more easily reconcilable with the sacred organ music of the nineteenth century, heavily influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach and similar to the organ music of César Franck and Franz Liszt. However, most of Alkan’s organ music is rather unique in its sinister way, and it might well appeal as easily to headbangers who get a rush out of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor as they will to Alkan’s readymade fanbase.
Alkan: Organ Music, Vol. 1, is recorded on the organ in Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire, England, a modern instrument built in 1969 that is adaptable to a wide range of purposes and suits this music well. A slight downside is that the recording is quite distant and a little on the quiet side; turning it up will increase the volume but does not overcome the sense of distance. Bowyer, however, has found the creepiest-sounding stops on the Blackburn instrument to realize Alkan’s devilish vision in registrations that suits it (does any organ truly have a stop marked “Creepy”?), and this alone makes the recording easily recommendable.
01. Treize prières, Opus 64: I Andantino
02. Treize prières, Opus 64: II Moderato
03. Treize prières, Opus 64: III Poco Adagio
04. Treize prières, Opus 64: IV Moderatamente
05. Treize prières, Opus 64: V Adagio
06. Treize prières, Opus 64: VI Moderato
07. Treize prières, Opus 64: VII Maestoso
08. Treize Prières, Opus 64: VIII Tempo Giusto
09. Treize prières, Opus 64: IX Doucement
10. Treize prières, Opus 64: X Assez lentement
11. Treize prières, Opus 64: XI Andantino
12. Treize prières, Opus 64: XII Allegretto
13. Treize Prières, Opus 64: XIII Largement Et Majestueusement
14. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: I Moderato
15. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: II Andantino
16. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: III Tempo giusto
17. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: IV Vivace
18. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: V Andante quasi allegretto
19. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: VI Poco lent
20. Petits préludes sur les huit gammes de plainchant: VII Andantino
21. Petits Préludes Sur Les Huit Gammes De Plainchant: VIII Moderato
22. Impromptu on Luther’s “Un fort rempart est notre Dieu” Opus 69
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