Schumann: Papillons; Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Waldszenen

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Ivory
WORKS: Papillons; Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Waldszenen
PERFORMER: Earl Wild (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 64405-73001 ADD
Earl Wild, now 87, has always been at his best in front of an audience and Liszt is one of many composers with whom he has always been on exceptionally good terms. Ivory’s selection of 13 items are taken from three different concerts – in 1979 (Chicago), 1973 (QEH, London, where a younger me contributes to the snatches of applause) and 1983 (Tokyo) – though the provenance of the recordings is not stated. Wild is one of that rare breed of pianists who is able to communicate to the listener an all-consuming delight in his art. Whether it is conjuring up quasi-impressionistic colours in the Petrarch Sonnets, finding whimsical humour in the ‘Octave’ study or simply dazzling in the coda of the Fourth Hungarian Rhapsody, you are never in doubt that you are listening to a truly great pianist who enjoys being on stage.

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There are various subtle emendations Wild makes along the way, some to no obvious effect (his own coda to ‘La leggierezza’, for example), others that show what an acute ear he has for drama and colour – chorded octaves and an electrifying accelerando just before the scintillatingly executed ‘cavalry charge’ in Funérailles (a strange acoustic – from another performance? – affects the penultimate chords of the piece before audience applause interrupts in a different acoustic, a puzzling momentary distraction).

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Like many before him in the Schumann Sonata, he fails to find a convincing way to handle the episodic structure of the opening and closing movements of this flawed work. The Aria, however, finds him at his lyrical best while the scherzo is delightfully characterised without any hint of the over-emphatic ‘humour’ which mars some performances of its tongue-in-cheek Intermezzo and strange parodic recitative sections. But it is in Papillons and, especially, Waldszenen that you wonder why Wild has not recorded more of Schumann’s (and, by inference, Mendelssohn’s) brief character pieces. Here is playing that must surely put an end to the old canard of Wild being a Gershwin-Rachmaninov-transcription specialist – try the final ‘Abschied’ from Waldszenen (though I wish Ivory had given separate tracks to the nine pieces). Magical, masterly and, yes, moving. Jeremy Nicholas