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Earl Wild: [Re]Visions
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Air and variations on The Harmonious Blacksmith (pre.1720) [4:26]
Alessandro MARCELLO (1669-1747)
Adagio from the Oboe Concerto in D minor SF.935 (c.1714) [4:33]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Dreams Op.38 No.5 (1916) [3:34]
Where beauty dwells Op.21 No.7 (1902) [3:35]
The Muse Op.34 No.1 (1912) [4:47]
Floods of Spring Op.14 No.11 (1896) [4:00]
Do not grieve Op.14 No.8 (1896) [3:10]
Sorrow in Springtime Op.21 No.12 (1902) [3:47]
On the death of a Linnet Op.21 No.8 (1902) [4:55]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Dance of the four swans from Swan lake Op.20 (1875-77) [1:43]
At the ball Op.38 No.3 (1878) [3:04]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Seven Virtuoso Etudes on popular songs [20:10]
Improvisation in the form of theme and three variations on 'Someone to watch over me' [12:47]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Solfeggietto in the form of an improvisation H.220 (1766, arr. Vittorio Forte) [2:49]
Vittorio Forte (piano)
rec. 2020, Studio Odradek 'the Spheres'
ODRADEK ODRCD399 [77:33]

Earl Wild produced some of the most effective transcriptions of modern times; I have long considered his Rachmaninov song transcriptions to be an unofficial third set of Preludes in that he captures the idiom so well and his glittering Virtuoso etudes based on Gershwin songs often seem to attract the attention of other pianists. Italian pianist Vittorio Forte has already included some of these works in his recitals and now brings us a full CD devoted, with one exception, to the this American master and what a delight it is. Forte has all the requisite technique to do these trancriptions justice and brings with it a generous dollop of character and imagination.

The familiar stains of Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith open the disc in a transcription that does for Handel what Godowsky did for Rameau and the like; recreating it in terms of a modern concert grand piano. Of the course Handel's original works very well on the piano but this rich treatment, with its gilded decorations is still welcome and enjoyable. He follows with another baroque transcription, the adagio from the Oboe Concerto by Marcello but in this instance a far less ornate one that matches the heartfelt melodic simplicity of the original. This is reflected in Forte's unfussy playing and wonderfully floated melody. This melodic gift continues in the Rachmaninoff songs and is immediately apparent in the almost impressionistic opening of Dreams from Rachmaninoff's final set of songs. Of his more popular songs Where beauty dwells and the impassioned and virtuosic Floods of Spring are included, the latter a challenging enough piece for the accompanist in its original version but here extended to two verses to accommodate all of Wild's splendid ideas, including a nod to the Prelude op.23 no.2 in its second verse and some luxurious whole tone writing. Forte also treats us to the achingly melancholic strains of The Muse and O do not grieve; in this last song there is a grand richness in the writing as the departed implores the one left behind Live! You must live! And Forte captures this perfectly without it resorting to empty grandiloquence.

He is as fleet as Wild himself in the brief, delicious and devilishly tricky Dance of the four swans from Tschaikowsky's Swan Lake and his pedalling in At the ball is marvellous, indeed I note this throughout; just try Somebody loves me from the Gershwin set for a perfect example. Gershwin was always close to Wild's heart; he recorded all the concertante works including a fabulous Rhapsodie in Blue (with chorus) as well as making several transcriptions of which Forte chooses the Seven Virtuoso Etudes as well as the Someone to watch over me improvisation, a work that Wild wrote and recorded in the late eighties but never played in concert. Yet again Forte impresses; startling and irrepressible virtuosity certainly but matched by a keen sensitivity to the clear affection that Wild has for the composers he transcribes. The virtuoso etudes fizz with energy under Forte's fingers but he also responds to the lyricism and drama – take the layered textures of The Man I love, opening with an almost classical song without words and rising to cinematic climactic heights. In the toccata-like I got rhythm Forte chooses not to finish with Wild's final sforzando chords, played by the forearm, opting instead for a quirky pianissimo flourish. Next is Wild's kaleidoscopic fantasy on Someone to watch over me. Perhaps there are those who don't imagine Gershwin and Puccini sharing the limelight and even more so Bach getting in on the act but both composers and more are represented here. The extended theme, variations in itself and Wild at his jazziest, impressionist best, is followed first by a barcarolle. The right hand's constant repeated notes high in the piano are beautifully sung by Forte whilst the left hand's flowing accompaniment is visited by snatches of themes – O Sole mio one moment and Vesti la giubba or Nessun dorma the next. Imagine riding in a gondola, serenaded with Gershwin by the Gondolier and drifting past open windows from which singers briefly join in duet and you get the idea. The Brazilian dance is an energetic staccato toccata with some very brief rumanative interludes and the final variation...well, if you've ever wondered what the sarabande from Bach's C minor Partita would sound like as a tango then wonder no more! A complex contrapuntal dance ensues in which the aforementioned sarabande, ably partnered by the second prelude and fugue from the Well tempered Clavier, join with Gershwin in a dark and gritty terpsichorean embrace. A match made in heaven.

Forte closes this entertaining and colourful recital with his own homage to Earl Wild in the form of an improvisation, fleet-fingered baroque meets stride piano and boogie-woogie in the Solfeggietto by C.P.E Bach, a composer to whom Vittorio Forte has previously devoted an album (Odradek ODRCD368). This Italian pianist is a new name to me and I have to say I am glad to have had the opportunity to get to hear his sparkling dramatic pianism and in such clear realistic sound.

Rob Challinor

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