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Wild About Transcription
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro, transcribed by N Vaneyev [6:17]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude, BV213A (1922) [10:35]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonatine (1905) [12:00]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Piano Sonata (1949) [20:12]
Earl WILD (1915-2010)
Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1976) [28:18]
Dominic John (piano)
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London [2014]

The title pun is unashamed. It’s Earl Wild to which it refers, given that he was responsible for his ‘Fantasy’ on themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, 28-minutes of seismic vitality and lashings of virtuosity. However there’s more to Dominic John’s recital, lavish though Wild’s contribution remains. There are two other transcriptions, and two pieces that have nothing to do with the transcriptive arts; the Sonatine of Ravel, and Barber’s Sonata.

John studied successively at Chetham’s School of Music, and at the Royal Academy and the Royal College in London. He’s already won a number of prizes and has a healthy concert calendar. Given the balance in this disc between sonatas (or sonatinas) and transcriptions it’s clear that he values interesting and exciting programming that nods to the School of Bravura whilst providing evidence of his perceptions in more central repertoire, as he does with the Ravel here. He is clearly also capable of spinning a surprise, as he starts the recital with a piece few will have come across – few, that is, except the most dedicatedly adhesive pianophiles – a transcription by the little-known Russian, N Vaneyev (doubt even extends to his first name) of Kreisler’s evergreen Praeludium and Allegro. The precedent is Rachmaninov’s transcriptions of his friend and colleague’s violin works but in this work there are chromaticisms a-plenty. The opening Praeludium possesses a requisite grandiloquent majesty, but there are times during the passagework of the Allegro when things get a bit bogged down. That’s no fault of the performer who manages to convince one, almost, that it’s a thoroughly successful transcription. John certainly plays it straighter than Cyprien Katsaris, who characteristically editorialises things in his performance.

John also plays Busoni’s Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude BV213a - the 1922 version of the 1884 original, which is trimmed back to half the first version’s length. This later version was included in the Klavierübung of 1922, which is the reason Busoni cut it, but even then he wasn’t finished and in the second edition of 1925 he cut the Fantasia section too. John plays the tarantella toward the end with particular grace and draws this homage together very adeptly indeed.

Earl Wild’s 1976 transcription offers latitude for characterisation and panache, qualities John happily possesses. It also requires feats of legerdemain and that too is a John quality – just try the witty It Ain’t Necessarily So, for example. Fortunately the pieces are separately tracked. It’s difficult to separate John’s performance from that of Xiayin Wang on Chandos (CHAN 10626 review review) though it’s true that her recording quality differs from John’s, which is somewhat shallow.

John plays the Debussy Sonatine without much tempo fluctuation in which respect he can be compared and contrasted with an older master such as Mindru Katz. Still more his playing stands at a strong remove from that of Cortot and Gieseking whose very different and personalised playing agreed on one thing, at least: they played it with much more youthful vivacity than players of today. John is not alone in sounding somewhat dogged in the finale. The Barber has attracted a famous slew of interpreters over the years – from Horowitz, van Cliburn, Earl Wild and John Browning onwards. John plays it with great commitment and gets the drollery of the scherzo and the grave tolling of the slow movement. These details show real affinity and he offers a coruscating take on the finale – ‘a strict fugue’ as Browning used to call it. For an even more linear approach try Joel Fan on Reference Recordings RR119.

This ingeniously programmed disc happily draws together interesting reportorial demands. The fold-out card production has a useful note from Andrew Morris but the star of the show is John.

Jonathan Woolf