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Rachmaninoff Virtuoso Arrangements for piano by Earl Wild

NI5965
£14.99

Details

Mention the pianist Earl Wild and you will conjure the term virtuoso, indeed, super-virtuoso. A pianist who in Liszt’s definition is ‘called upon to make emotion speak and weep and sigh. He creates passions he will call to light in all their brilliance… he will call up scent and blossom and breathe the breath of life.’

All in all a cornucopia of pianistic magic performed with grace, relish and fluency by Martin Jones, England's most recorded pianist. This second tribute follows his earlier disc of Earl Wild’s Gershwin transcriptions. With his own distinctive voice he nonetheless reminds me of a recital given by Wild in London in 1982. Writing of that occasion I told of how ‘seemingly millions of notes sparkled and cascaded from those extraordinary fingers.’ Today, Martin Jones, like his predecessor, gives new meaning and a new lease of life to virtuosity, a tired term resurrected. Bryce Morrison

 Rachmaninoff Virtuoso Arrangements for piano by Earl Wild

Reviews

Martin Jones’s seemingly insatiable appetite for mining the piano repertoire en masse continues with a second CD devoted to virtuoso transcriptions and arrangements by Earl Wild. Wild’s Rachmaninov song transcriptions dominate the present volume and it says much for Jones’s considerable command that his interpretations can hold their own in the face of Wild’s irrepressible keyboard prowess.

True he may not unleash comparable galvanic force at the peak of ‘O, cease thy singing’, yet his lighter touch in the opening and closing sequences adds more shimmer to the scales. The piano-writing in ‘floods of spring’ deliberately mirrors Rachmaninov’s piano idiom and Jones evokes a waterfall of seeping grand gestures that differs markedly from Wild’s blunter, more angular and sparely pedalled performance. The arpeggio sprays of ‘The Little Island’ have a stronger melodic profile in Wild’s hands, yet Jones’s more Impressionistic conception holds equal attraction.

Regarding Wild’s arguably overwrought reworking of the ‘Vocalise’, I prefer Jones’s faster and more fluent phrasing of the main theme compared to Wild’s slower, heavier take; but as the inner voices pile up, jockeying for position, Wild proves the more effective traffic cop.

The delightful Reminiscences of Snow White is a kind of ‘Liszt does Disney’ and his premiere recording remains the interpretative last word in harmonic pointing and characterful variety. That said, I have always felt that Wild milked the rubato and echo effect in ‘I’m Wishing’ to a fault whereas Jones plays relatively straight. Jones projects more floating, melody-oriented readings of the Bach and Fauré transcriptions in comparison to Wild’s stronger linear profile. While the Mexican Hat Dance’s whirling runs and dashing leaps pose no problems for Jones in his late seventies, he inevitably reckons with the 88 year-young whippersnapper’s more pugnacious energy.  While Earl Wild may have originally tailored his transcriptions for his own use, they’re not necessarily private property, as Martin Jones proves time and again. Gramophone

Some of these versions are good old barnstorming versions in the virtuosic tradition, but by no means all. Fairly typical is the Vocalise, well known from other arrangements. Here the familiar melody gets gradually more and more elaborate accompaniment. Floods of Spring is an exuberant number which does indeed flood the piano with sound but has a quieter but scarcely less elaborate middle section. Do not grieve is somewhat similar.

However, a greater number, while still with elaborate and complex textures, are actually much gentler, for example The Muse, To the children, the final Dreams and my favourite of all of these, On the death of a linnet, an exquisite piece.

No praise can be too high for Martin Jones’s rendering of all these works, including the ones I didn’t care for. Not only does he have a prodigious and immaculate technique, in which every note is clear, the right lines are brought out or subdued, he never goes through his tone or blurs the harmony, but he is also a feeling musician who phrases sensitively and enters into the spirit of these very difficult pieces.

He is superbly recorded, which is not surprising as he has recorded a great deal for Nimbus, over a very wide range, which includes a great deal of Spanish music as well as such exotica as the complete piano works of both Stravinsky and Szymanowski. The sleevenote, in English only, gives useful background. Fans of Earl Wild’s transcriptions should know that Jones has also recorded a disc of his Gershwin versions (Nimbus NI753). Stephen Barber, MusicWeb-International