About the album
Three piano composers working in 19th century Paris raised the standard of the romantic piano music. Two of the names are easy to guess: Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. But what about the third? His name, Charles Valentin Alkan, is hardly known, even among true music connoisseurs. But those who have once heard perform Alkan’s fascinating piano works by one of those rare pianists who dare and can, will be forever surrendered. Who was this mysterious composer? Charles Valentin Alkan was born in 1813 in Paris into a Jewish family. His actual family name was ‘Morhange’. His father, director of a boarding school in the Marais, had as first name “Alkan”. This name is derived of the Hebrew Jochanan and means “The Lord has been merciful”. By using this as his artist name, Alkan underlined the importance he gave to his Jewish descent. Until his death he would remain faithful to the Jewish religion, and continue to thoroughly studying it. Charles Valentin Alkan was a true child prodigy. He had already been admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of 6. He received piano lessons from Joseph Zimmermann, an important piano teacher, who would later also be the teacher of a.o. César Franck and George Bizet. When he was 15 Alkan was a full grown piano virtuoso, who only had to fear competition from a second child prodigy, the twelve year old Franz Liszt, who had settled in Paris in 1823. Both young pianists became close friends. Just like Liszt Alkan gained a lot of success with his performances in the Paris salons and concert halls. In the meantime he had exchanged the family home in the Marais for an apartment in the much more fashionable surrounding of the Square d’Orléans, where many artists were settled, such as Alexandre Dumas, George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. Alkan continued to give many concerts until 1848, the year which confronted him with a major setback. He applied for the post of head of the piano department of the Conservatory, as successor to his former teacher Zimmermann, but he was passed by his less talented pupil Antoine Marmontel. A second blow was the death of Alkan’s best friend Frédéric Chopin in 1849. Around 1850 Alkan completely withdrew from public life. He gave piano lessons, composed and lived like a reclusive hermit, troubled by hypochondria and depressions. Between 1873 and 1877 he had a revival as a pianist, giving a series of “Petits Concerts” at the Salle Erard. Alkan died in solitude on 29 March 1888. There are two variants concerning the cause of his death. The romantic version is that he had climbed on a small ladder to get the Talmud from his bookcase, traditionally placed on the top shelf. Alkan supposedly fell, pulling down the bookcase with him. The prosaic version is that he was found dead in his kitchen. Although he enjoyed the admiration from the greatest of his colleagues, and was Chopin’s and Liszt’s equal, Alkan never reached the same fame. To a large extent this can be attributed to his secluded way of life. After his death one could read in the magazine Le Ménéstrel: “It was necessary for him to die in order to make him sense his existence.” The same article also speaks of “an artist buried alive, who is infinitely greater than thousands of his more cheered contemporaries.” Alkan wrote primarily piano works, which distinguish themselves by a predominantly highly demanding technical degree and a refreshing originality, in which humour and philosophical profundity go hand in hand. Titles of his works can be as witty as those by Rossini or Satie. Relatively well known are Alkan’s ‘12 danstores les tons mineurs’ opus 39 from 1857, which are of a different kind of virtuosity than those by Liszt, but have a comparative degree of difficulty. This is due to the often exceptionally great length of the Études in combination with the uninterrupted motoric movement in an extremely fast tempo, often lasting for many pages. This demands an exceptional stamina of the performer. Despite, but also thanks to this fascinating, technical element Alkan’s Études can generally be regarded as musically gripping. This certainly applies to the twelfth etude from opus 39, Le Festin d’Ésope. In this theme with 25 variations the performer needs to continuously shift between totally different playing techniques, such as very fast tone repetitions, great leaps, pearly runs, trills, full chords and octaves. Alkan applied these techniques in order to give a musical portrayal of the story which lies at the basis of Le Festin d’Ésope (The Feast of Aesop): Aesop, the legendary poet of fables from Greek antiquity, was a slave who was supposedly released because of his wisdom. Once he needed to prepare a banquet on two consecutive evenings, offered by his master Xanthos for some philosophers friends of his. Xanthos ordered him to prepare the most exquisite meal on one evening and the most ordinary on the other. On both evenings Aesop used the same basic dish: oxtongue, but prepared in many different ways. He thus showed that all good and evil in the world can be reduced to being one and the same. In Alkan’s interpretation the striking, eight bar theme represents the oxtongue, the variations the colourful array of dishes, symbolizing the variety of life’s events. One can occasionally hear unmistakable imitations of animal sounds, which may be obvious in a composition about a poet of fables, but then Alkan also was a lover of animals (he wrote a Funeral march for a dead parrot). In variation 22 we very clearly hear a barking dog (for the left hand Alkan wrote barking in the score) and in variation 23 one hears the unmistakable roar of a lion. The Saltarelle, opus 23 is technically equally impossible as many of Alkan’s Études. In a very fast tempo unassailable leaps have to be made, light as a feather and with many treacherous tone repetitions. Originally the saltarelle is an Italian jumping dance, comparable with the tarantella (also in 6/8 time), but even faster and lighter.
Much more than Alkan the two year older Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is regarded as the founding father of a new form of virtuosity. Just like Alkan Liszt published a volume of 12 Études. The definitive version of these 12 Études d’execution transcendante was published in 1858, one year after the publication of Alkan’s opus 39. However, an earlier version from 1838, published as Grandes Études, already existed. This volume was based on twelve Études from 1826. That very first version was still completely founded on the technique which the young Liszt had learned from his teacher Carl Czerny in Vienna before coming to Paris. It is interesting to see how these works went through a metamorphosis in twelve years, strongly influenced by the new possibilities of the pianos of Erard with their “mechanic with double echappement”, which Liszt encountered in Paris. We also see the influence of impulses Liszt had after hearing of the violin virtuoso Paganini and the Études of Chopin. In his revised edition of 1858 Liszt increased the playability. It was also not until then that he gave most Études programme titles. Number 11 he called “Harmonies du Soir” (“Evening harmonies”). Although the large intervals demand a highly developed piano technique, this sound painting is much more than a mere practise piece (the actual meaning of the word “étude”). Arthur Friedheim, one of Liszt’s most well known pupils, remembers in his autobiography (Life and Liszt), that he once played this work for Liszt, who at that time lived in the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Friedheim writes: “Before I had time to begin he called me to the window. With a wide sweep of the arm he pointed out to the slanting rays of the declining sun which were mellowing the landscape with the delicate glamour of approaching twilight. ‘Play that’, he said. ‘There are your evening harmonies’.” Liszt composed the triptych Venezia e Napoli in 1859 as a supplement to his “Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italië” (Years of pilgrimage, second year: Italy). In his three volumes Années de pèlerinage Liszt collected a series of recitations, inspired on his experiences of a.o. Nature and literature in Switzerland and Italy. Venezia e Napoli contains three transcriptions of typical melodies from the two Italian cities. The first two come from Venice. Gondoliera is a paraphrase on the canzonetta “La Biondina in Gondolotta” (The blonde girl in the little gondola) written by “Cavaliere Peruchini”, as Liszt wrote in the score. It is a barcarolle in flowing 6/8 time, with a typical Italian belcanto melody full with refined coloraturas. In the second movement Canzone, it again concerns a Venetian gondola song, taken from the opera Otello by Rossini. The closing Tarantella takes us to Napels. The tarantella is a south Italian folk dance, named after the tarantula, a poisonous spider. The wild, stirring dance in a fast 6/8 time was originally intended as a ritual of exorcism, when somebody was bitten by the tarantula. Because of its nature, a tarantella gives all occasions to create a virtuoso piano piece, in which all depends on speed, accuracy and a refined toucher. Liszt’s Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli can be regarded as one of the most successful examples.
Just like Liszt and Alkan Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was besides being a composer also a piano virtuoso. This explains why the suite Romeo and Juliet, which he compiled from piano transcriptions of movements from the ballet of the same name, is more than mere piano excerpts; it is attractive, pianistically interesting concert music. In 1934 the Kirov Theatre commissioned Prokofiev to compose a full evening’s ballet. Prokofiev chose the drama of Shakespeare, an author very popular in Russia in that period. After he had finished Romeo and Juliet the Bolshoi Theatre took over the commission. However, the ballet was never performed there, because the music was supposedly too difficult to dance to, even after numerous adjustments upon the request of the choreographer. It finally received its world premiere in 1938 in Brno (Czech Republic). It was premiered in Russia only two years later. When Prokofiev commenced working on the ballet, he had just returned to his homeland, after he had fled for the West at the outbreak of the October Revolution. There he joined the avant-garde composers. Back in Stalin Russia however, it became clear that a much more traditional composing style was expected of him. In Romeo and Juliet one hears that this in no way hindered the composer, but in fact created a challenge for him. In the 10 pieces for the piano suite chosen from the 52 movements of the ballet, Prokofiev did not exactly stick to the original order of the story. Instead, he let the logical musical development prevail. The suite opens with a Folk Dance (a kind of tarantella), followed by an expressive Street Scene and a Minuet, which is a fine example of Prokofiev’s “neoclassicism”: the translating of a classical dance form into a modern idiom. Movement 4, Juliet as a young girl, is a sparkling piece, tender with a sad undertone referring to Juliet’s fate. In Masks Prokofiev pulls out all the stops to evoke the atmosphere of the carnaval. The Montagues and Capulets is a sound painting of the two rival families. After this militant march calm returns in Friar Laurence, in which Prokofiev portrays the priest who consecrated the marriage of Romeo and Juliet and who would later give Juliet the sleeping potion. Then the composer gives a portrait of yet another one of the characters, Romeo’s flamboyant friend Mercutio. The Dance of the girls with lilies is a light intermezzo before Prokofiev allows Romeo to part from Juliet in the closing scene.
Christo Lelie © 2001
Translation: Jeroen Tersteeg
Romantische meesterwerken magistraal vertolkt
De sensationele Italiaanse pianist Igor Roma speelt op dit album unieke romantische pianomeesterwerken. Waaronder zijn eigen arrangement van Saltarelle van Charles-Valentin Alkan en werken van Franz Liszt en Sergei Prokofjev. Van de winnaar van het Franz Liszt Pianoconcours, kunnen we niet anders dan betoverend spel verwachten. En inderdaad, deze uitvoering van de atletische pianist Igor Roma, stelt beslist niet teleur.
De Franse componist Charles-Valentin Alkan was een van de grootste pianovirtuozen van zijn tijd. Hij schreef hoofdzakelijk composities voor piano, die zich onderscheiden door de hoge technische moeilijkheidsgraad en door een verfrissende originaliteit, waarin humor en filosofische diepgang hand in hand gaan. Dierenliefhebber als hij was, laat hij hier en daar onmiskenbare imitaties van dierengeluiden in zijn stukken horen. Ja zelfs een treurmars voor zijn overleden papegaai, schreef hij ooit. Het werk van Alkan wordt maar zelden uitgevoerd. De naam, Charles- Valentin Alkan, is ook onder echte muziekkenners nauwelijks bekend. Wie eenmaal Alkan’s fascinerende pianowerken hoort spelen door een dapper pianist, die dat ook kan, zal voorgoed in de ban zijn van deze componist.
Veel meer dan Alkan, staat zijn vriend de Hongaarse componist Franz Liszt (1811-1886) bekend als grondlegger van een nieuwe vorm van virtuositeit. Net als Alkan publiceerde Liszt een bundel van 12 Études. Deze zouden door de jaren heen flink door Liszt aangepast worden aan nieuwe speeltechnieken, de mechanische mogelijkheden van de instrumenten en aan de impulsen bij het horen van collega componisten. De herziene versie uit 1858 was beter speelbaar en zijn eerder genummerde études, hadden opeens mooie namen als Harmonies du Soir. Overigens heeft deze étude niets weg van een oefenstuk. Integendeel het vraagt om een hoogontwikkelde pianotechniek Venezia e Napoli bevat bewerkingen van typerende melodieën uit de twee Italiaanse steden. De eerste twee zijn, hoe kan het ook anders, gondelliederen. In de Tarantella gaan we naar Napels. Het is een wilde, opzwepende volksdans, een bezweringsritueel wanneer iemand door de giftige tarantula spin was gebeten. Het komt hier aan op snelheid, trefzekerheid en een geraffineerd toucher. Allemaal ingrediënten voor een virtuoos stuk en daar is de Tarantella van Liszt één van de meest geslaagde voorbeelden van.
De Russische componist Sergei Prokofjev was een virtuoos pianist en een van de belangrijkste componisten van de twintigste eeuw. Zijn suite Romeo & Juliet, is samengesteld uit pianobewerkingen van bewegingen uit het gelijknamige ballet. Het Kirovtheater gaf Prokofjev in 1934 de opdracht muziek voor een avondvullend ballet te componeren. Hij koos voor het populaire drama van Shakespeare Romeo en Julia. Het ballet werd in Rusland niet opgevoerd, omdat de muziek te moeilijk zou zijn om op te dansen. Uiteindelijk ging het in 1938 in Brno inTsjechië in première en pas twee jaar later in Rusland. Bij het uitbreken van de Oktoberrevolutie was Prokofjev naar het Westen gevlucht. Prokofjev begon aan het ballet net nadat hij was teruggekeerd naar zijn vaderland. In het Stalinistische Rusland werd een traditionele manier van schrijven van hem verwacht. Maar daar liet de componist zich niet door weerhouden, hij vond het juist een uitdaging. En dat is in Romeo & Juliet te horen. Prokofjev liet een logische muzikale opbouw prevaleren, wat tot aantrekkelijke en muzikaal zeer interessante concertmuziek leidt.
De vader van de Italiaanse Igor Roma (1969) ontdekte al snel het muzikale talent van zijn zoon en leerde hem de grondbeginselen van de muziektheorie. Op zijn 11e kreeg hij pianoles. In 1984 ging hij studeren aan het Conservatorium in Vicenza. Eind jaren tachtig won Roma diverse Italiaanse pianocompetities en werd daarom toegelaten tot de prestigieuze internationale piano academie Incontri col Maestro in Imola. Hij zou voor en na zijn afstuderen nog vele prijzen winnen, maar zijn carrière nam pas echt een vlucht toen hij op z'n 28ste met overmacht het Franz Liszt Pianoconcours in Utrecht won. Van de ene op de andere dag was hij een concertpianist en niet langer die getalenteerde muziekstudent. In 1997 studeerde hij cum laude af met de titel 'Meester'. Zijn repertoire is zeer breed; hij speelt werken van bekende componisten als Johann Sebastian Bach en de Olivier Messiaen, maar ook van minder bekende componisten. Kamermuziek speelt een belangrijke rol in zijn leven. Igor Roma geeft vooral concerten in Nederland, maar concerteert ook wereldwijd, begeleid door vooraanstaande dirigenten en internationale orkesten. In het Koninklijk Concertgebouw Amsterdam trad hij zeer succesvol op voor koningin Beatrix, ook speelde hij in Lincoln Center in New York. Igor Roma geeft onder andere les op 'zijn oude' piano academie Incontri col Maestro in Imola en aan het Conservatorium van Maastricht.
The Italian pianist Igor Roma was born in Baden (German Switzerland) and began to take piano lessons at the age of eleven. In 1984 he moved to Italy and settled in Schio, where he attended classes at the Music School of the city and later at the Conservatoire of Music of Vicenza with Carlo Mazzoli until 1991, the year in which he received his diploma.
Between 1988 and 1989, Igor Roma successfully competed in various Italian piano competitions by winning the Como National Competition, the Senigallia International Piano Festival, the Ravenna and Gallarate National Competition, and by obtaining the third prize at the Mantova National Competition.
In 1989 he was admitted at the Piano Academy "Incontri col Maestro" of Imola where he studied with Franco Scala, Lazar Berman and Boris Petrushansky. In 1990 the school announced a competition for the students who were attending the Institute, in order to award some study grants. Roma won the second prize.
In 1992 he was drafted for military service. During this period, however, he took part at the National Piano Competition of Venice, where he obtained the third prize.
After his discharge in 1993, Igor Roma moved to Imola to set up an intense study programme with Franco Scala, in order to prepare himself for the international piano competition scene, until he received his diploma at the Academy with the title of Master, in 1997.
In 1994 he went to Ireland to take part at the International Piano Competition of Dublin, where he won the sixth prize. Six months later he went to Japan to take part at the second edition of the Hamamatsu International Competition: here he was awarded the fifth prize. The following year he was at the 'Arthur Rubinstein' International Piano Master Competition of Tel Aviv, where he obtained the fifth prize.
It was in 1996 that Igor Roma won the first prize at the 'Franz Liszt' International Competition in Utrecht (The Netherlands) together with the special prize of the Critics. His interpretation of the Totentanz, performed with the Dutch Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jan Stulen, impressed the jury, consisting a. o. by Earl Wild, Cyprien Katsaris, Arnaldo Cohen, Boris Bloch, Andrej Jasinski, Jan Wijn. The jury was so much taken by his performance that the second prize was not awarded and the other two finalists were given a shared third prize. The following morning Igor Roma played the same concert, live broadcast, at the famous Concertgebouw of Amsterdam. In the months following the 'Liszt prize', he began a long tour throughout the Low Countries, which would last through the following summer and autumn.
This is when Igor Roma began his successful career. His wide repertoire ranges from Bach to Messiaen and includes lesser-known piano pieces by authors like Szymanowsky, Kurtag, De Falla and others.
He has played concerts in The Netherlands but also in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Esthonia, Latvia, Malta, South-Africa, China, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia.
He has performed with outstanding conductors, such as Stanislaw Skrowacewsky, Reinbert de Leeuw, Roberto Benzi, Ton Koopman, Philippe Herreweghe, Claus Peter Flor, Jaap van Zweden, Josep Pons, Zoltan Kocsis and others.
He has played with prestigious orchestras, such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonic, Symphony and Chamber Orchestra of the Dutch Radio, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of Bilbao, the Symphony Orchestra of Galicia, the National Orchestra of Spain, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Hungary.
He has been a guest star in various TV programmes and many of his concerts have been broadcast live. He has performed at the 'Gergjev' Festival in Rotterdam, the 'Isabelle van Keulen' Chamber Festival in Delft, the 'Daniels Muziekdagen' Festival in Zeist and the 'Philippe Herreweghe' Festival in Saintes (France).
In June 2001 he produced his first CD, which includes works by Alkan, Liszt and Prokofiev. Since 2006 this CD is published by Challenge Records with the title "Romantic pieces for piano".
In 2002 Igor Roma realized an important professional cooperation: a tour with the pianist Enrico Pace, with the collaboration of the percussionists Gianluca Carollo and Alessandro Zucchi. They played at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam in the presence of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands and at the Lincoln Center of New York obtaining a great success.
Igor Roma is regularly invited at chamber music festivals. He has also performed with the Brodsky Quartet, the Daniel Kwartet and the Quatuor Danel. He has played in trio with violinist Giovanni Battista Fabris and cellist Quirine Viersen, and also in trio with oboist Bart Schneeman and bassoon player Andrea Bressan. With Bressan he has realized a project as a piano/bassoon-duo finalized in the arrangement, performance and recording of music by a. o. Heitor Villa-Lobos and Egberto Gismonti.
Lately he is performing again with Enrico Pace at two pianos, but especially as soloist sharing with Pace some piano recitals. This project consists in a concert containing two shorter solo recitals of each pianist, ending the performance together with several quatre-mains pieces. This special formula was so successful, that later on it gave birth to a similar one, but this time with Dutch jazz pianist Harmen Fraanje, where the peculiarity consists of continuous stage exchanges between the two musicians with classical piano repertoire and jazz improvisations. This almost uninterrupted alternation of the two creates an effect of unique musical line through the two different and distinguished genres.
Both pianists were invited at the famous Dutch TV program "Vrije Geluiden" to perform some musical examples and to explain the project through an interview.
Roma is also an appreciated teacher. He gave Master classes in several Dutch Conservatories and Institutions like the YPF (Young pianists foundation), having been a jury member in various editions of its Piano Competition as well. He participated as a jury member even in other National and International Competitions, such as the 8th "Franz Liszt" Piano Competition in Utrecht in 2008. For the 2011 edition, he will be part of the "International Selection Jury 2010".
In 2009 Igor Roma produced a second CD with the title "Encores", in which he's performing well-known and lesser-known piano pieces some of which are arranged by Roma himself.
Since November 2013 he is teaching at the prestigious Accademia Pianistica "Incontri col Maestro" of Imola.