RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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!
A huge surprise — superb Beethoven in the romantic mode, with great color and poetry.