Georges Cziffra warms up for the BBC, mixing improvisation with a bit of the first Chopin étude. [more inside]
"In a way I wish it did not require such a formidable technique, because I do not really enjoy sweating over this music." This is virtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin speaking of Charles-Valentin Alkan, the Romantic pianist said to have made even Liszt nervous, and whose exhilarating works fell into obscurity due to their rigorous technical demands. For a warm-up, here's Alkan's major etude "Allegro barbaro", as performed by Jack Gibbons. A machine recording of his piece Le Chemin de Fer in which you can see the keys being pressed. Recordings of Youtube exist of people attempting his near-impossible Scherzo focoso (and, for comparison, a mechanical rendition of the same). And for encore, here is Hamelin again playing Les Quatre Ages, frequently considered Alkan's most mature work, a sonata depicting the four ages of man.
Leopold Godowsky's technique was such that Arthur Rubinstein wrote, "It would take me 500 years to get a mechanism like [his]." Which came in handy playing his 53 Studies on Chopin's Etudes - which are often nominated as the most difficult pieces in the repertoire.
Winning the Gold Medal in Young International Piano Superstardom is Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The 26 year old former prodigy compares himself not to Glen Gould, but to Tiger Woods. Given his "star appeal" and numerous endorsements, it's an apt comparison. [more inside]
At fourteen years old, Jennifer Lin is a shade better on the piano than most eighth-graders. (video) [via]
What's the most difficult piano piece? Opinions vary. Is it La Campanella, written by Liszt to show off what only he could do? (performance, score) Is it Balakirev's Islamey, which even Balakirev struggled to play? (performance, score) Or Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, written to top Islamey? (performance, score) Does Godowsky double his points by reconfiguring the already-difficult Chopin for the left hand? (performance) And if someone plays all four hours of Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum, written across four staves to fit the extra notes, will anyone listen? (perfomance excerpts, score excerpts)