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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Virtuoso Arrangements by Earl Wild
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. 2016, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales
NIMBUS NI5965 [72:55]

I never heard Earl Wild in the flesh, nor have I heard his recordings: I know him only by reputation, as a virtuoso pianist in the Liszt tradition. There is a website dedicated to his work and legacy which you can find here, and many of his recordings have been reissued on their Ivory Classics label. Like Liszt he made many transcriptions. Here we have one containing thirteen of his versions of Rachmaninov songs (there are fourteen in all) along with a few others based on other composers.

The general style is that of Rachmaninov’s writing in his solo piano works and the concertos: a very flexible and mobile bass line supports melodic writing in the treble which is often very full indeed, with complex textures involving scales and filigree decoration of all kinds. There is a copious use of the sustaining pedal so that the instrument is flooded with sound. However, the harmonies should not blur and the main melody should always stand out strongly.

Some of these versions are good old barnstorming versions in the virtuosic tradition, but by no means all. Fairly typical is the Vocalise, well known from other arrangements. Here the familiar melody gets gradually more and more elaborate accompaniment. Floods of Spring is an exuberant number which does indeed flood the piano with sound but has a quieter but scarcely less elaborate middle section. Do not grieve is somewhat similar.

However, a greater number, while still with elaborate and complex textures, are actually much gentler, for example The Muse, To the children, the final Dreams and my favourite of all of these, On the death of a linnet, an exquisite piece.

Of those pieces not by Rachmaninov, the opening Mexican Hat Dance is based on a silly tune everyone knows, which acquires more and more complications as it proceeds, and Tchaikovsky’s At the ball does something similar to what starts out as a simple song. I suppose I must have seen Disney’s film of Snow White at some time, though I don’t remember it; Wild’s Reminiscences of Snow White is a pot-pourri of themes from the film worked up in the manner of Liszt’s operatic fantasias. I could have spared this in favour of the missing Rachmaninov song transcription, Harvest of Sorrow. J. S. Bach Hommage à Poulenc is a piece of parodic pastiche which struck me as not nearly as amusing as Alec Templeton’s Bach goes to Town. And Wild’s version of the Dance of Four Swans from Swan Lake I found frankly horrible: the charm, innocence and melancholy of the original were sacrificed to meaningless bows and flounces.

No praise can be too high for Martin Jones’s rendering of all these works, including the ones I didn’t care for. Not only does he have a prodigious and immaculate technique, in which every note is clear, the right lines are brought out or subdued, he never goes through his tone or blurs the harmony, but he is also a feeling musician who phrases sensitively and enters into the spirit of these very difficult pieces.

He is superbly recorded, which is not surprising as he has recorded a great deal for Nimbus, over a very wide range, which includes a great deal of Spanish music as well as such exotica as the complete piano works of both Stravinsky and Szymanowski. The sleevenote, in English only, gives useful background. Fans of Earl Wild’s transcriptions should know that Jones has also recorded a disc of his Gershwin versions (Nimbus NI753).

So this is a disc mostly of delights. But it should be sampled one a time – you should no more listen to it straight through than have a meal consisting entirely of cream buns.

Stephen Barber

Jésus González Rubio (died 1874): Mexican Hat Dance (Jarabe Tapatio) [3:47]
Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 [6:13]
Midsummer nights Op.14 No. 5 [3:18]
At the ball, Op. 38 No. 3 [2:50]
In the Silent Night, Op. 4 No. 3 [4:41]
The Little Island, Op. 14 No. 2 [1:59]
Swan Lake Op. 20 No. 13/4: Dance of the Little Swans.
Floods of spring, Op. 14 No.11 [3:54]
Where Beauty dwells, Op. 21 No. 7 [3:58]
Improvisation on Après une rêve [2:35]
O Cease Thy Singing, Op. 4 No. 4 [4:28]
On the Death of a Linnet, Op.21, No. 8 [4:08]
Frank Churchill: Reminiscences of Snow White [8:02]
The Muse, Op. 34 No. 1 [4:01]
Sorrow in Springtime, Op. 21 No.12 [3:31]
J. S. Bach Hommage à Poulenc [3:59]
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]



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