Paul Wee Wows In Alkan

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The fourth through the seventh of Alkan’s Twelve Etudes in the Minor Keys Op. 39 comprise his Symphony for Solo Piano, while Etudes 8 through 10 represent the more daunting Concerto for Solo Piano. They require a pianist who possesses transcendental technical prowess, the stamina of a marathon runner, a sure command of large-scale structure, rhythmic élan, and a large portfolio of nuance and color. Paul Wee is precisely this pianist and more.

He creates the impression of tonal mass, yet his shaping of individual lines within thick textures imparts a welcome horizontal vantage point to the piano writing. In the Symphony’s second movement, for example, listen to Wee’s thoughtfully contoured interaction between the legato cantabile detached chords. His Presto finale zooms from the gate like a bat out of hell, yet the pianist’s staggeringly accurate fingers never even hint at potential derailment.

Likewise, Wee brings a playful audacity and airborne lilt to the Concerto’s aggressive quasi-bolero third movement that contrasts to the relatively suaver reserve of Marc-André Hamelin’s equally astonishing pianism. And Wee’s timbral contrasts in the long first movement bring out the music’s solo/tutti perspectives in true orchestral fashion with no more than ten fingers, although one could swear that an extra pair of hands sneaks in to help out every now and then.

Wee’s achievement is all the more unbelievable when you consider that he is not a professional pianist, but a highly successful international commercial London-based lawyer! One should mention, too, Wee’s superb booklet notes and BIS’ world-class production values. To call this disc an auspicious solo recording debut is an understatement. Better to describe it with a single word: WOW!



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; Hamelin (Hyperion); Gibbons (ASV)

  • Paul Wee (piano)
  • BIS - 2465
  • SACD

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