Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

SERGEI RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 1 (1893) 24.00 Piano Concerto No. 4 (1926) 24.00 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) 21.00  Earl Wild (piano) RPO/Jascha Horenstein rec London 20 May and 2 June 1965 CHESKY CD41 [68.51]


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Wild's fabled glories in this repertoire are fully attested to on this satisfyingly full disc. Chesky have done wonders with the already fine original sound quality secured by Ken Wilkinson. The tapes were taken down as part of the Readers' Digest series and were a sure-fire hit. I wonder if anyone realised at those sessions how successful they would be. The partnering of Wild with a German conductor and a British orchestra in repertoire then deeply unfashionable must have seemed a risky enterprise to company accountants.

The Fourth Concerto is still unfashionable alongside the Paganini and concertos 2 and 3. This is one of the factors that makes this coupling so successful: two disregarded concertos preceding the celebrated variations. In No. 4 Wild is fully in touch with the work's spark and ecstatic voltage, with molten arabesques and Horenstein a stunning partner (listen to the barking horns). The middle movement is rather a let-down close in spirit to Macdowell and the piano stool. In the final movement the spark from heaven falls again in torrents of notes the volume and speed of which is remarkable. Listen to the intoxication of the playing at 1.55 and the singing strings at 2.29.

The first concerto has no shortage of inspiration hinting that the composer may have heard Tchaikovsky 4 recently and the movement is lit with a tramping vigour. In the second movement (presumably by coincidence) the trumpet solo almost collapses into the famous trumpet cantillation from Franz Schmidt Symphony No. 4. The finale skitters and hammers almost predicts an element of Elgar's Violin Concerto at (00.23). The string playing is razor sharp .

The famous variations are aggressively on-beat and what a rush this performance and recording gives. Listen to the nervy vitality of 5.05 and the harp torrents at 6.47. The piano and orchestra dance like some dexterously skittering iron cat at 16.10.

This is all outstanding 'Desert Island' material of the highest distinction. An outright recommendation.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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