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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Earl Wild (piano)
rec. 1996, Fernleaf Abbey, Columbus, Ohio
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94930 [59:02 + 46:28]

Earl Wild recorded the complete set of Nocturnes at Fernleaf Abbey, Columbus during sessions spread over a few days in March 1996. The resulting disc, issued by Ivory Classics the following year, garnered much critical acclaim. It’s this which has now been reissued by Brilliant Classics. In addition to the very useful notes from Victor and Marina Ledin, the booklet contains a brief series of thoughts, about a paragraph long, from the pianist on the subject of the Nocturnes in which he hopes that his performances can be seen as being conveyed with links ‘to the romantic spirit and tradition of the past’. He specifically cites five pianists whose performances of the Nocturnes he recalls: Rachmaninoff, Hofmann, Paderewski, Petri and Lhévinne. No room for Rubinstein in the Wildean upper room of elevated Nocturne performance.

Wild’s own playing is consistently beautiful, tonally and expressively, and he phrases with great feeling and warmth throughout. He performs the pieces in his own recital order, not in chronological or opus order and therefore the primary controlling features are those of mood, key, and effect. Beneficially one can listen to both discs without feeling the need to navigate forwards and backwards. The impression remains rather like a luxurious concert.

His trusty Baldwin is the perfect instrument to translate his affectionate but never supine pianism. He marries affectionate intimacy with controlled temperament. He plays the E minor, Op.72 No.1 – Chopin’s first Nocturne despite the late opus number – with simplicity, refinement, and a ravishing tone. Rhythmically he lacks for nothing, as the Nocturne in G, Op.37 No.2 demonstrates whilst hand balance and evenness of trills animate the A flat, Op.32 No.2. Unforced poetry courses through Op.27 No.2 whilst – without overmuch pedal – there is an elevated sense of nobility in the central panel of the G minor, Op.15 No.3. He vests Op.62 No.1 with breadth and a fully lyric quotient and heightens the contrasts implicit in Op.27 No.1, reserving great gravity of feeling in Op.37 No.1.

In fact these are only particular examples of the range of poetry, imagination, and digital control to be encountered throughout these engrossing two CDs. They show how Wild’s long experience of and openness to the traditions of Romanticism in twentieth-century interpretation profoundly informed his own playing. Given the further inducement of the price-bracket, this is still, after nearly two decades, a modern era reference edition of the Nocturnes.

Jonathan Woolf