Ludwig van BEETHOVEN(1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 21, Op. 53 Waldstein in C major [25:19]
Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No 2 Tempest in D minor [26:17]
Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 in A flat major [20:09]
David Wilde (piano)
rec. 11 September and 29 November, 2009, and 27 March 2010, Reid
Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
DELPHIAN DCD34090 [71:45]
David Wilde’s Beethoven is a marvelous surprise: a soft, sensitive
touch on the keyboard, superb mastery of his instrument’s tone,
romantic legato, and considered thought behind every bit of
phrasing. Wilde, 75, is a new name to me, and I had to do a
bit of googling to make sure he was not another Joyce Hatto.
No: David Wilde is the real deal, and while he is not quite
too good to be true, this Beethoven is very good indeed.
We lead off with a superb Waldstein sonata, in the romantic
vein, which is to say big-hearted, slowly-paced compared to
some of today’s performers; this is an excellent contrast with
Ronald Brautigam’s equally fine account. The music has a full-moon
glow which makes the phrases shimmer. Wilde finds an ideal balance
of forward momentum and willingness to linger over the wonders;
the generous rubato other reviewers have commented on is in
evidence here, and my is it well-judged! This might be the highlight
of the disc.
Second in order is the Tempest sonata, Op. 31 No. 2,
again very sensitively done through the first two movements.
It should be noted here that when I return again and again to
Wilde’s command of his instrument’s sound, and his almost unerring
sense of the music’s poetry, I don’t mean to say the performance
lacks backbone or physical force when necessary. Indeed, the
surprise here is Wilde’s staccato, speedy take on the finale’s
main theme. This, I’ll admit, takes some getting used to; I’m
accustomed to the last movement rolling in like so many waves,
not causing such a jolt.
The Op. 110 is a step down, though still masterly. The arioso
and fugue, and especially the return of the adagio after the
first fugue episode, is hauntingly beautiful, and though I can
hear Wilde’s vocalizations at one point, it’s fine because I
felt like sighing too. Only the first movement feels a bit plain
at times, and the sound - the sonatas were recorded months apart
from each other - is slightly distant, less warm and less flattering
to Wilde’s golden touch. You’re only apt to notice this, though,
on very good headphones.
Yes, I was sufficiently impressed with this recital to suspect
David Wilde wasn’t real. He is. He was born in 1935, played
for Solomon, studied for a time with Nadia Boulanger, and in
addition to a considerable performing career and some Liszt
recordings on EMI, has composed a considerable body of work
(including an opera), been an activist over the disaster in
1990s Bosnia, and even written several papers on psychology
(including, the notes tell us, a “Jungian analysis of Liszt’s
sonata”). Wilde contributes the booklet notes here, deeply intelligent
and informative; his explanation of the flexibility of the Waldstein’s
final prestissimo is especially rewarding. How David
Wilde has escaped my attention for so long is beyond me — but
it’s clearly time to rectify this. Delphian have very recently
released Chopin and Schumann (Fantasie, Carnaval,
Kinderszenen) recitals in a “Wilde Plays …” series, and
there is a coupling of the Liszt sonata with Busoni’s elegies.
I may need to collect them all.
This is not, then, too good to be true. It is true, for one
thing, and for another, back-to-back listens with another performer
in Wilde’s expansive mindset, Emil Gilels on Deutsche Grammophon,
show Gilels at his most extraordinary. The difference is especially
clear in Op. 110, where the Russian is in a spiritual world
all his own, willing to gamble even more daringly on lyrical
gorgeousness and reap the even bigger return. Still, Wilde’s
is some of the best Beethoven I’ve heard in a very long time,
and I’d set his Waldstein alongside Brautigam’s as a
contemporary reference. More, please!
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