Classical: The Compact Collection

ROB COWAN ON THE WEEK'S CD RELEASES

THE PIANIST Raymond Lewenthal was a breed apart. Open the booklet for RCA's newly reissued The Piano Music of Alkan and you see him standing there, a Harry H Corbett look-alike draped in a black cape and posing manfully against a dramatic backdrop of clouds. Thirty-odd years ago the late Mr Lewenthal signalled the Romantic piano revival with a disc devoted to music by the ill-fated Talmud scholar and piano virtuoso Charles- Valentin Alkan (1813-1888). Renewed interest in Alkan's music was perhaps thenceforth inevitable, but few later recordings have ever matched the sheer bravura of Lewenthal's manic selection.

Aesop sets things in motion with a gallery of animals as suggested in 25 dazzling variations, each more outlandish than the last and based on an impish little theme that lodges obstinately in your memory. "Quasi- Faust" is the second movement of Alkan's Grande Sonate and in some respects anticipates Liszt, while the four-movement "Symphony" is - like "Aesop's Feast" - extracted from a massive set of 12 studies in minor keys. The first movement hints at Mendelssohn, the second (a tongue-in-cheek Marche funebre) at Prokofiev, and the whole is wickedly witty in a way that Haydn might have been had he lived 100 years later.

Modern scholarship tells us that Alkan wasn't, in fact, crushed by a falling bookcase (this particular rumour persisted for many years and even the CD booklet perpetuates it), though even stranger notions are suggested in his music. Lewenthal plays at white heat, both for Alkan and in an equally zany set of variations on a theme from Bellini's I Puritani by Liszt, and in works by Thalberg, Pixis, Herz, Czerny and Chopin. The recordings are brittle but impressive.

Another Jewish minor master hailed from Hessen and penned a number of works, including an attractive quartet of symphonies. Friedrich Gernsheim was a friend of Brahms and a teacher of Humperdinck and his four symphonies reflect a style of writing that Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Schubert and Brahms helped cultivate. The Second Symphony in particular is crammed with likeable ideas (the slow movement especially) and all four finales are strong on good tunes, though Gernsheim's musical arguments are somewhat discursive.

Arte Nova's world premiere recordings under the baton of Siegfried Kohler are worth searching out. The Rhineland-Pfalz State Philharmonic plays reasonably well, the sound is consistently pleasing and the low price surely makes the set irresistible - certainly for devotees of Romantic orchestral music.

Paradoxically, the stylistic leap forwards from Gernsheim's heart-felt meandering to the terse world of Beethoven's "Serioso" Quartet crosses a veritable chasm, especially with the Hagen Quartet on hand to heighten the drama. I have never heard a more ferocious account of the opening Allegro con brio, tensed to the point of self-combusting though with an almost cruel clarity evident in every department.

Schubert's last quartet shivers like the displaced lover in his last song cycle, with Brucknerian tremolandos and savage dissonances that invade the otherwise lyrical Andante. The Scherzo is abrasive, the finale a half- brother to the parallel movement in the "Great" C major Symphony. There's nothing in the repertory that is remotely like it, not even late Beethoven - and the Hagens work hard at maximising the contrasts between charm and chill.

Alkan/Lewenthal

RCA Red Seal 09026 63310 2

Gernsheim/Kohler

Arte Nova 74321 63635 2 (2 discs)

Beethoven, Schubert/Hagen Quartet

Deutsche Grammophon 457 615-2

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable