The thing about Alkan, and perhaps one reason why his music is not appealing to many pianists, is that he has done most of the work already. That is, the music is so striking that it leaves little room for interpretation. His musical personality is so strong, that there is little room for the personality of the performer. The best that even a live pianist can do is what the computerized Mr. Nanozinsky or whateveryacallhim has done... to "realize" Alkan's vision. Of course there may be disagreement about this, but I would not invest lots of time working on a long Alkan work, as I know I would not end up with a strong personal message, just Alkan's message. But I'm glad others have done it, as his message is wonderful! The preceding does not apply to all his works, but to many, especially the large etudes, for example.
I love Alkan, and my devotion to him is similar to that of Sorabji or Busoni, who said that he was one of the greatest piano composers after Beethoven, alongside Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Schumann.
The day before yesterday I was watching a video of Gibbons playing Alkan's Concerto, and I questioned myself if Alkan's music does let something for the interpreter. But then I remembered that I could never listen to a perfect performance of his Concerto, Symphonie or Grande Sonate. It doesn't matter how good the pianist is, there is another one who found a counter-melody here, other who let the music breath there, another one who did some beautiful dynamics subtleties there...
In pieces like the nocturnes, the barcarolles from Recueil de Chants or the preludes, it's obvious that there is much space for "interpretation" (I love that 2nd nocturne...). One would question about the large studies. Well... have you listen to McCallum's recordings? She was Ronald Smith's pupil, and she does a lot of interesting things in her Alkan recordings. some subtleties in dynamics and touches that a more famous Alkan performer NEVER DOES!!
I think that maybe it will take some generations more for us to fully understand Alkan's music, and for performers to ameliorate the interpretation. I'm not satisfied with ANY recording of Alkan's Concerto (my favorite ones are by Latimer, Lindgren and McCallum, even so far from being perfect), and the Grande Sonate... it's much worse.
I'd say that even if it was totally true (Alkan's music leaving no space for interpretation), I don't find it a problem because I once read Ashkenazy saying that he doesn't believe in personal interpretation, and I agree with him. He continued saying: "I believe that interpretation should be like a transparent glass, a window for the composer's music."
There is also something else...
we don't need any exaggeration for making the performance sound as our own. No one play the piano EXACTLY like you, for the reason that no one is EXACTLY like you (no matter how good or bad you play the piano, hehe).
Kempff used to say that to his students. He didn't want them to imitate him, because he believed that anyone had inside oneself the ways for making the music sound beauty, in one's own way.
I have dabbled with the Symphony (not as difficult as the Concerto, but also a better piece I think).
What a coincidence!
I'm recording the Symphonie RIGHT NOW (this is my "actual projetct", after Bach). I've already done the 2nd and 3rd movements, I will NEVER be able to play the last one, so I must only practice the 1st one now. hehe
My favorite Alkan's pieces in the past was Scherzo Diabolico, the amazing Symphonie (mainly the beautiful 1st movement) and the Grande Sonate (mainly the thrilling Quasi-Faust). But that was because I was only listening to Hamelin's performances. His two recordings of the Concerto are terrible. Not even perfect technically (because one may wonder why he uses so few pedal, even in passages where Alkan asked for it), his performances are cold and inhuman, almost no sentiments at all, and he's not able to bring off the clever structure of the Concerto. Listening to him, it sounds like notes-after-notes with no structure and lack of meanings, what is not true.
So I never liked the Concerto, UNTIL I listened to Latimer's performance, which completely changed my vision. It's possible to listen to one of greatest moments of his performance here:
http://www.geocities.com/whitehouseprod ... ndex2.html
btw... I have Martin's recording of Le Preux