The Art of Transcription: Beethoven Eroica and Mozart 20 on solo piano

A must-have for all pianophiles. Paul Wee specialises in the improbably difficult; he is the real deal,

The Art of Transcription: Beethoven Eroica and Mozart 20 on solo piano

Paul Wee specialises in the improbably difficult: previous releases include Charles-Valentin Alkan's 12 Etudes in All the Minor Keys and Thalberg's monumental L'art du chant appliqué au Piano, Series 1-4, Op. 70.  Here he takes on a  transcription by Liszt of Beethoven's Eroica symphony and returns to Alkan for that copmposer's transcription of Mozart's D-Minor Concerto.

The Beethoven is a doubly colossal achievement: first, Liszt's masterly transcription, secondly Paul Wee's incredible performance Beethoven requires momentum - which means no slowing down when life gets difficult, and this is precisely wha Wee offers. Note also how the grinding dissonances towards the movement climax take on a granitic effect on piano:

The score is brilliantly coloured, with Liszt's writing absolutely respecting the original Beethoven; in turn, Wee respects all of Beethoven's special harmonic twists to a tee (try around 11 minutes in to that first movement, prior to some astonishing washes of sound).

The famous ‘Marcia funèbre’ is astonishing, heard here on the black sonorities of a piano low down, there is no doubt as to what this represents; yet original woodwind dialogue (around 4"30 for example) appears as the most delicious counterpoint, while the later fugato appears as rigorous as can be:

The quicksilver Scherzo brooks no slacking, and again Wee is fearless, right from his choice of scampering tempo (and listen our for the ‘horns’ in the Trio!):

There are lovely playful moments in the finale that are delightful, cheeky little semiquaver passages that come from only the finest technique:

Wee leaves us in no doubt that there are pronounced dance elements in this finale.

Before we move on to the Mozart/Alkan, a quick reminder that this is not our first Eroica-piano redeo, although the earlier post featured Scharwenka's arrangement for piano duo.

And so to the Alkan transcription. Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88) was one of music's great mavericks. His transcription of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 dates from around 1860. Immediately we are in a very different world from the end of the Beethoven. Listen to how when the fortes do come they almost thunder:

Wee finds grace, too in the first movement, as well as pathos. But when it coes to grace, nothing beats the central Romanze, taken at the perfect pace. And note how Alkan changes his approach when the 'orchestra' repeats the 'solo piano's initial theme. Oh and yes, Wee's sheer virtuosity in the central section is spellbinding:

The upward-leaping gesture of the finale is delightfully done here, lighter than one might expect, but the spirit of D-Minor is ever-present. And the cadenza, if you don't know Alkan, might raise the odd eyebrow (it is positively manic in places):

A must-have for all pianophiles. Paul Wee is the real deal, and these transcriptions are masterly. BIS's piano recording is predictably perfect (they are one of the few companies who consistently score highly in this regard).

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