sun 18/04/2021

Earl Wild (1915-2010) plays again | reviews, news & interviews

Earl Wild (1915-2010) plays again

Earl Wild (1915-2010) plays again

The death of the late great American virtuoso Earl Wild a few weeks ago has had me poring over youtube trying to find a decent clip of him in his prime. You'd think there'd be a raft of footage of a man who spent three decades as a staff pianist for NBC, then ABC, all while building up a virtuoso concert career that saw him become one of the most respected pianists of the 20th century. There is some fizzy footage of him performing Chopin and MacDowell on the American variety and talk shows of the 1950s (which I wish would happen today; I'd pay good money to see Krystian Zimerman perform a Chopin ballade on Loose Women). But most of the video fragments are badly recorded amateur snatches at concerts from when Wild was much older.

So I can only find one clip that captures the full brilliance of this man: a recording of Thalberg's Fantasy on Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Op 67 - and, helpfully, you can see the full score of the work as you listen. From those very first staccato chords, there is a control of sound, a differentiation of texture and a balancing of rubato and strict metre that means he always avoids exaggeration that shows why he was held in such high esteem and why he was often referred to as one of the last of the great Romantic pianists in the mould of a Lhevinne or Hoffmann. Also no one, absolutely no one, could deliver such clarity and definition in their runs - the second part of the Fantasy is awash with these extraordinary pearly-fingered flights.

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