Works by Handel, Rachmaninov, Gershwin and Tchaikovsky (trans. Earl Wild)
Vittorio Forte (piano)
Odradek ODRCD399 77:33 mins
Transcriptions were the TikTok videos of the early 20th century, providing a format for pianists to put their stamp on contemporary hits. Earl Wild (1915-2010) regularly heard Rachmaninov perform his own transcriptions – and the American pianist’s versions of Rachmaninov’s songs feel inherently meta. Sorrow in Springtime from Op. 21 (No. 12) hams up the romantic elements, with expanding flowing melodies. Here, and in Floods of Spring, Op. 14, No. 11, pianist Vittorio Forte underlines the impressionistic elements. (The Bechstein piano is carefully captured by specialist label Odradek.) The Muse, Op. 24, No. 1 comes across as sentimental rather than wistful, whereas the sparsely textured Dreams packs a powerful punch.
The seven etudes based on George Gershwin’s piano arrangements of his songs are glorious. Wild, whose early performances of Rhapsody in Blue are often said to have secured his solo career, has carefully synthesised the various styles to produce transcriptions that are both frothy and deeply virtuosic. Cascading notes render ‘Liza’ – from the musical Show Girl – virtually unrecognisable; ‘Somebody Loves Me’ is transformed by extended melodic development. Ultimately, this is what marks a good transcription: Wild’s The Man I Love is not merely a cover of the 1920s favourite, it has its own voice, beautifully delineated by Forte.
The two Tchaikovsky pieces are less successful. Dance of the Four Swans (from Swan Lake) feels a little clunky. Forte’s closing transcription of CPE Bach’s Solfeggietto is a fitting tribute to the art form.