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alternatively Crotchet

Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonate-Idylle Op. 56 (1937) [11:37]
Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies) Op. 39 (c.1920) [28:39]
Second Improvisation (in form of variations) Op. 47 (1925) [26:03]
Earl Wild (piano)
rec. Fernleaf Abbey, Columbus, Ohio, 1988. ADD
IVORY CLASSICS 75003 [66:40]
Experience Classicsonline

It’s twenty years since Earl Wild set down these recordings of a composer not perhaps much associated with him – though surely a Rachmaninovian of such distinction should enjoy similar stylistic assurance in a composer Rachmaninov esteemed higher than any of his contemporaries. It was originally issued on Chesky and reissued on that label [AD1] in the late 1990s.

Wild brings a lexicon of pianistic skill and sensitivity to bear on these works. In the case of the Sonate-Idylle he also brings his accustomed sensitivity and leonine power. He’s been accorded a rather cavernous acoustic, to which I happen to be antipathetic, but there’s not much to be done about it now, and remastering can’t ameliorate the problem. It does at least confer a slightly distant, halo effect to the music making. Compared to a contemporary klaviertiger such as Hamelin we find that Wild is altogether more straightforward and linear in his approach. Hamelin’s rubati are distinctive but somewhat invasive in the opening Pastorale, though the clear, detailed sound is a definite plus for those who prefer greater clarity and texture. I do prefer the greater warmth Wild brings to the second of the two movements; he stresses the wholesomeness and nobility of the writing and despite the swimmy acoustic I find that his refusal to fuss over details – as Hamelin can and does – pays rich dividends.

The charming portraits enshrined in the Second Improvisation reveal Wild the colourist and painterly wit, almost as much as they do the composer. The bell chimes are subtly evoked in Meditation where luminous voicings course throughout the brief span, whereas the sturdy march of Fancies contrasts nicely with the dynamism and fervour of The Tumult of the Crowd. The Orthodox Church saturates Incantation – very Mussorgskian and grand - and there’s ferment in Bad Weather. All these miniatures are played with tremendous verve and assurance.

Finally there is Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies) written c.1920. Rachmaninovian – maybe that should be Medtneresque - chordal power is unleashed in the first of them - the control of the ascents and descents of the music, and its wave-making incessant beauty, is spellbindingly done. Wild takes a reflective line in the Romanza, much more so than Hamelin, though he never loses the spine of the music. The melodic lines of Primavera are brought out with rich succour. Hamelin is good here but he doesn’t sing out as effusively as Wild and his rubati are more obviously explicit once again. Just the right sense of intimacy and warmth – all very naturally phrased – informs the Canzona. Both Geoffrey Tozer (Chandos) and Hamelin (Hyperion) take different points of view from Wild in the Sonata tragica. The former two see things more decisively and intensely whilst Wild is more content to stress the melancholia and is therefore slower and less explicitly exciting.

Throughout Wild proves a formidable champion of Medtner’s music. True the recording is a handicap but the musicianship frequently convinces us of his identification with the caprice, the power, the legend, the introspection and the fancy of these pieces.

Jonathan Woolf


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