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Virtuoso Arrangements for Piano by Earl Wild - Volume 2
Jesús González RUBIO (d. 1974)
Mexican Hat Dance (3:47)
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Vocalise Op.34 No.14 [6:13]
Midsummer Nights Op.14 No.5 [3:18]
In the Silent Night Op.4 No.3 [4:41]
The Little Island Op.14 No.2 [1:59]
Floods of Spring Op.14 No.11 [3:54]
Where Beauty Dwells Op.21 No.7 [3:58]
O, cease thy singing Op.4 No.4 [4:28]
On the death of a linnet Op.21 No.8 [4:08]
The Muse Op.34 No.1 [4:01]
Sorrow in Springtime Op.21 No.12 [3:31]
To the Children Op.26 No.7 [3:40]
Do not grieve Op.14 No.8 [3:05]
Dreams Op.38 No.5 [3:04]
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
At the Ball [2:50]
Dance of the Four Swans (Swan Lake) [1:43]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Improvisation on Aprčs une ręve [2:35]
Frank CHURCHILL (1901-1942)
Reminiscences of Snow White [8:02]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Hommage ŕ Poulenc [3:59]
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales, 2016
NIMBUS NI5965 [72:55]

Recently I reviewed, and enjoyed greatly, a disc of Rachmaninoff's songs transcribed for solo piano. At the time I mentioned that the only similar recital consisted of Earl Wild playing his own arrangements – which at that time I had not heard. Now, I have a chance encounter those arrangements as they form the bulk of Martin Jones' second volume of "virtuoso arrangements by Earl Wild". Jones is of course pretty much the house piano-recitalist for Nimbus, and over many years his discography has proved what a remarkably skilled, insightful and wide-ranging performer he is. As of course was Earl Wild. In some ways I wonder if Wild wore his remarkable skill as player and musician almost too easily. The liner mentions an early teacher commenting that the addition of Wild to her faculty would prompt them hearing "a lot of Gershwin." To which of course the only clear response is, “So what?" Likewise the liner mentions Schnabel resenting Rachmaninoff (the recitalist's) success playing music that Schnabel considered inferior.

Wild's delight in embracing music of all styles and levels of "seriousness" is evidenced here. Alongside the heartfelt and very beautiful Rachmaninoff transcriptions are a witty Mexican Hat Dance, an irreverent Hommage ŕ Poulenc (a Bachian prelude harmonised by Poulenc) and the sheer appreciation of the good tunes which fill Reminiscences of Snow White. But there is an intelligence and appreciation of musical heritage here are well. The Hat Dance starts off with a rumbling toccata-like feel that surely is a sly nod towards Ginastera's most characteristic solo piano works. Likewise the choice of the word "reminiscences" echoes many a 19th potpourri of melodies from forgotten Grand Operas and so with considerable compositional brilliance Wild pays homage to both the virtuoso composer-pianists of the previous century as well as the sheer melodic memorability of Frank Churchill's wonderful songs. Just how well Jones 'fits' the style of these arrangements can judged when making a direct comparison of these Reminiscences with Wild's own recording from a Sony recital entitled "Earl Wild - the Romantic Master". Wild's keyboard mastery is a miracle of clarity, line and power. More so, the use of the word "Romantic" in that disc's title is wholly apt. Wild had a Romantic sensibility, an ebb and flow to his phrasing, a delight in the extremes of expressive and dynamic range that I find utterly compelling.

Jones is very much of that mould too, willing to linger affectionately around a particularly juicy cadence or melting melody. Given the high level of virtuosity enshrined in these arrangements, and remembering that Jones in now in his late 70's the brilliance and security of his playing is little short of remarkable. But it is his musical identification with these arrangements that makes this such a pleasurable experience. Noting the breadth of Jones' discography it comes a something of a surprise that he has not recorded more Rachmaninoff. I have a two disc set of the 2 piano/4 hands works and there is another Nimbus recital but I think that is about it. The thirteen song arrangements here prove he is as attuned to this composer as he is to so many others. Wild was of course a famed Rachmaninoff interpreter with his set of the concertante works never out of the catalogue in over 50 years and still a benchmark for many when comparing new releases. Wild's empathy for the Rachmaninoff is shown in these superb and highly idiomatic effective arrangements. As I said when reviewing the Naxos recital, which did not include any Wild transcriptions, this is almost like discovering a rich vein of new piano works by the composer. Lyrical arrangements such as Sorrow in Springtime Op.21 No.12 or Where Beauty Dwells Op.21 No.7 are given ideally poignant and fluently fluid interpretations. Possibly I would have enjoyed even more torrents in Floods of Spring from Jones, but this is such a minor detail.

The previously mentioned Sony/Wild recital disc includes the Tchaikovsky and Fauré transcriptions given here in addition to the Churchill. In every case Jones' playing is all but the equal of Wild’s. Perhaps the transcriber finds a tiny degree of extra casual insouciance in the absurdly hard filigree writing of the Dance of the Four Swans but it really is a case of first amongst equals. Nimbus can be trusted to produce excellent piano recitals from their Wyastone Concert Hall. Long gone the days of Nimbus discs of high artistic quality compromised by distant and overly resonant engineering. Bryce Morrison contributes a compact but informative, English-only liner note. I have long admired Martin Jones' superb artistry and I always enjoy good transcriptions. No surprise then that I find this to be such an enjoyable disc. As a tribute to the art of Earl Wild as well as another memorable recital by the indefatigable Martin Jones this disc gives repeated pleasure.

Nick Barnard

Previous review: Stephen Barber


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