Schumann: Études symphoniques (incl. posthumous variations); Toccata in C, Op. 7; Fantasy in C, Op. 17

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WORKS: Études symphoniques (incl. posthumous variations); Toccata in C, Op. 7; Fantasy in C, Op. 17
PERFORMER: Earl Wild (piano)
Earl Wild, an unbelievable 85 this year, has had a curious career, largely on the periphery of that pantheon reserved for the truly great pianists, hugely admired by many aficionados, but generally little known by the musical public at large, at least outside the United States. That he is, even today, a virtuoso of formidable accomplishments is commonly granted by even his sternest critics, and his inclusion in Philips’s gargantuan Great Pianists of the 20th Century was a source of great satisfaction to his many fans. His playing here of Schumann’s finger-stretching Toccata, recorded in 1974, finds him well short of his best form, even from a purely pianistic point of view. Like all too many performances of this much sinned-against work, an excess of symmetrical diddle-diddle, diddle-diddle rhythms makes it sound like a piece of super-Czerny. The remaining works, recorded ten years ago, bring us closer to Wild the great pianist without quite revealing him at his best. At 75, he sounded almost as secure and polished as in his heyday, and there are many beauties to savour – long-spanned melodic arches which remind us that Schumann the lyricist was one of the greatest songwriters ever, tightly sprung rhythms of great excitement, the deftly illumined polyphony, the beautiful harmonic balance, and much more. The recorded sound, however, is disconcertingly distant and over-reverberant, and the playing, for all its excellence, doesn’t reach those indefinable upper reaches of artistry that so distinguish, say, Argerich in the Fantasy and Perahia in the Études. Jeremy Siepmann