Composed by Charles Henri Valentin Alkan. Classical. CD. Naxos #PCL10189. Published by Naxos (NX.PCL10189).
First published in 1847, these preludes form a highly original set of pieces, effectively Alkan's first foray into the genre of cyclic shorter pieces. The set stands aside from so many in its consistently reflective and introspective approach to a genre recently redefined by Chopin. The key sequence guides us through all the major and minor keys, but instead of settling for all 24 major and minor tonalities, Alkan comes full circle for a twenty-fifth and final C major prelude to complete the set. Alkan had in mind that the Preludes might equally effectively be played on piano or organ - that they might even serve liturgical functions as chorale preludes or instrumental antiphons. However, they have always been regarded as piano music first and foremost, albeit possessed of an often tranquil and reflective temperament, anticipating the mystical works of Liszt such as the Harmonies poetiques et religieuses (it will be remembered that Liszt regarded Alkan alone as a serious rival to his pianistic prowess). Mark Viner has made his name playing Alkan's music, and he is widely regarded as among the composer's most persuasive advocates on record. 'His playing is never showy,' remarked the Guardian when reviewing a previous Piano Classics album of the Op.35 Etudes: 'he emphasises that these are profound explorations of early romantic sensibility first and extreme technical challenges second, and that is a totally convincing way of dealing with some of the most remarkable piano music of its time.' Viner was praised by The Sunday Times for 'turning Alkan's forbidding torrents of notes into real music'. This much-anticipated new album is enhanced by Viner's own, authoritative booklet essay giving full context both to the Preludes and their reception.