Beethoven: Piano Sonatas: No. 18 in E flat, Op. 41, No. 3, (Hunt); No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106, (Hammerklavier)

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: No. 18 in E flat, Op. 41, No. 3, (Hunt); No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106, (Hammerklavier)
PERFORMER: Earl Wild (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Ivory 76003
It’s strange to think that Earl Wild was born before Dinu Lipatti. Now in his nineties, this great pianist will always be most associated with the Romantic repertoire, yet his versatility has always been as impressive as his virtuosity. The Beethoven disc couples two recordings made a decade apart. The E flat Sonata, Op. 31 No. 3, was made in London in 1984 and first issued on Dell’Arte; the Hammerklavierwas made in Earl Wild’s home in Columbus, Ohio, in 1994 and first appeared on Chesky. In Wild’s hands the Hammerklavie is rugged, muscular and bristling with energy. The playing is hardly refined or beautiful, although the sense of danger that Wild brings is not inappropriate. Nevertheless, Mitsuko Uchida’s recent recording reveals a more focused expressive intensity allied to her faultless control. Wild’s account is not always a comfortable listen – largely because of the clangorous recorded sound – but only the slow movement, where Wild struggles to create a truly rarefied atmosphere, really disappoints. The E flat Sonata is better recorded, although still with a forward balance that accentuates Wild’s punchy style. This is a sharply etched and powerful account, and Wild seems more at home in the rhythmic propulsion of the opening movement and motoric finale than in the lyricism of the minuet. Paul Lewis (on Harmonia Mundi) is generally more measured, but also more subtle and ultimately he draws you more fully into the music. For years Earl Wild wanted to record all of Chopin’s Etudes, and at the age of 77 he realised this ambition. He brings considerable poetry, charm and a debonair elegance to this music, as well as technical fluency, and his magical way of projecting and sustaining a line is often evident. But while the playing is always accomplished, it only fleetingly captures the spark of individuality that Wild brought to his live performances. He seems inhibited by the pressure of the microphone, of setting down an interpretation for posterity. Alongside Murray Perahia’s superb recording, or the currently unavailable account by Juana Zayas, Wild seems just a little one-dimensional. The engineering is excellent – far better than the recording of the Hammerklavier made in the same venue two years later.