A new recording of all the major works for piano by a foundational figure in French music of the early 20th century.
Born in 1865, Dukas could have (and probably did) compose a good deal literally and stylistically in the 19th century, but his fastidious craftsmanship and self-criticism saw him burn far more music than he allowed to survive. All of a sudden, on the turn of the new century, he wrote two large-scale works which bring together a reverence for the recent and long-gone past with bold new thinking of how to write for the piano. Begun in 1899, the Variations take an innocent dance theme by Rameau and subject it to a dazzling sequence of treatments coloured by strict counterpoint, dreamy rhapsody and a Lisztian scale of piano writing.
Even more ambitious and contrapuntal in its workings is the 40-minute Piano Sonata which has long been regarded as a summit of fin-de-siècle piano writing. The Sonata has often been compared to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata for its colossal dimensions, its structural complexities and its tightrope virtuoso writing. Dukas himself later discussed its journey in terms of a symbolic victory over ‘the beast within’, and ‘the triumph of Apollo over the Pythian serpent’.
Vincenzo Maltempo follows in the footsteps of virtuosos such as Michel Ponti and Marc-André Hamelin, and shows himself equipped for the task, having already accumulated a critically acclaimed catalogue of hyper-virtuoso repertoire on Piano Classics, including five albums of Alkan, the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Liszt and the complete Sonatas of Scriabin. He possesses the virtuosity to burn which this music demands, but also the poetic sensibility to bring the most subtle nuances of colour to bear on two miniatures from much later in Dukas’s career, a Prélude in memory of Haydn and a deeply felt tribute to the memory of Debussy which makes haunting reference to the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.
‘Maltempo plays [Alkan’s Op 39] Concerto splendidly. He brings welcome lightness and rhythmic kick to the Allegretto Alla Barbaresca finale, while the central slow movement stands out for the pianist’s long singing lines and pulverizing bass notes at the climaxes.’ Classics Today (Alkan, PCL0061)
- Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was born in Paris, France. He was a student at the Paris Conservatory where he studied piano, harmony, and composition. He won the Prix de Rome for a counterpoint and fugue in 1886 and again in 1888 with the cantata, Velleda. He was the music critic for the Revue Hebdomadaire and Gazette des Beaux-Arts and at the same time, he was a professor of orchestration at the Conservatoire. His strong critical sense led him to destroy a number of his compositions and only allow a relatively small number of works to be published. He remained influential and respected as a teacher.
- Dukas’ output for the piano includes just five works: the Piano Sonata and the Variations, each of them a homage to a past master, to Beethoven and (more explicitly) to Rameau. The Sonata can be considered as a sort of French Hammerklavier Sonata, for its colossal dimensions, its structural and harmonic complexities and its virtuoso writing. It is a masterwork of immense scope, one of the greatest French piano sonatas ever written.
- Italian pianist Vincenzo Maltempo, one of the most interesting pianists of the young generation, made his name in his staggering recordings of unjustly forgotten romantic repertoire: Transcendental Studies by Lyapunov (Piano Classics, PCL0124) received 5 stars in several classical magazines (a.o. the French Diapason). His recording of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies received rave reviews, a Gramophone Editor’s Choice: “extraordinary breadth and nobility...little short of perfection...”, “9/9, close to ideal” (Jed Distler Classicstoday.com). His recordings of Alkan have “confirmed his place in the restricted circle of Alkan’s best performers, 5 stars” (Diapason), “Exhilarating, thrillingly demonic, 5 Stars” (Andrew Clement in The Guardian).