Sergei Rachmaninov / Earl Wild
Piano: Earl Wild
Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
Engineer: Ed Thompson
Total Title: 77:55
Earl Wild transcription scores are available here.
Transcriptions have been expertly remastered in state-of-the-art HDCD encoded sound. Disc also includes additional bonus tracks from live material.(ADD & DDD)
I suppose it's possible to imagine transcriptions of Rachmaninov songs being done better than by Earl Wild but - well, no, on reflection, I don't think it is. I remember when I listened to a recording of his transcription of a piece by Marcello – it was the adagio of the Oboe Concerto and is on Ivory's Wild at 88 disc – not merely how beautiful it was but how beautifully crafted. Wild has been writing transcriptions for most of his adult life and this facility, this gift, augmented by an auspicious affinity with Rachmaninov's music has led to this disc, much of which was recorded in July 1982 and first issued on LP. That material has been augmented by four tracks recorded in Ohio in 1991 and by three live performances from a Montreal concert in 1983. As a result there are three performances of an obvious Wild favourite, In The Silent Night, as well as two - very different – performances of Vocalise and equally two each of Where Beauty Dwells and Floods of Spring.
The results are entirely pianistic creations, each a kind of song without words, in which Wild had Rachmaninov's own example to follow; the composer transcribed his own songs Daisies and Lilacs. Wild has followed a broadly Lisztian-Rachmaninovian course and each song is bathed in lyric warmth and passion. So for example one can admire the mournful inflexions of the left hand in O Cease thy singing or the concentrated prayerfulness of To the Children in which the melody moves to the bass and the right weaves roulades of decoratively expressive passagework over it. The repeated climaxes of Do Not Grieve reflect the exhortation of the poem – all texts are provided by the way, in English – and Wild brings out all the harmonic complexity in a setting such as The Muse Op.34 No.1, written in 1912. His Vocalise was a minute quicker in the later, 1991 recording, which adds to the tension, though that earlier side does sound a little tape hissy; there's some residual high level hiss throughout in point of fact. Floods of Spring is an early setting and it matches the youthful spirit of the poem and its setting – truly verdant, open-hearted and lyric with plenty of drive and animation. Then there's the gorgeous reverie of Dreams – as tempting in Wild's hands as a narcotic. There's also the suicide-abjuring power of Sorrow in Springtime, the controlled ecstasy of Midsummer Nights and the little tone poem that Wild makes of Where Beauty Dwells, full of harmonic beauty, finesse and colour. I prefer the Montreal Floods of Spring – it's pretty much the same tempo as the 1981 studio recording but it's more immediate and richer, in the same way that I prefer the same live concert's version of Where Beauty Dwells which has slightly sharper accents and a tighter tempo.
With a typically helpful and attractive booklet from Ivory this is another of their frankly self-recommending Wild releases. If you want to sample, prepare to unravel Where Beauty Dwells and see if you don't submit to Wild's fabled charms.
Jonathan Woolf, Music Web.com, Apr. 2005
Earl Wild (b. 1915) has been a devotee and acolyte of Serge Rachmaninov for over seventy years, beginning at age six. During his student days, Wild had the opportunity to accompany a singer in a couple of songs; then, Wild fell under the spell of Maria Kurenko, who had performed much of the song oeuvre with the composer at the piano. Having listened to Rachmaninovís piano style for over two decades and having absorbed its technique and syntax, Wild decided to transcribe twelve of the songs, much in the manner of Liszt, in the summer of 1981. The twelve werededicated to Michael Rolland Davis; the thirteenth, a treatment of "Do Not Grieve," was composed later in the decade and dedicated to Clair van Ausdall.
The inscribed performances of Wildís own transcriptions date 1982-1991 and take in venues from New York City; Columbus, Ohio; and Montreal. The Vocalise receives two treatments, the first in 1982 enjoying an even broader treatment and lush fioritura than the reading from 1991. Wild's "Floods of Spring" bursts forth like one of the more aggressive preludes from opus 23. "In the Silent Night," Op. 4, No. 3 receives three inscriptions, obviously a kind of romanticís calling-card for the Wild high relief in the melody over a self-contained accompaniment, ending on a sustained D. Perhaps none of the songs inhabits quite the modal and harmonically ambiguous world as "The Muse," Op. 34, No. 1, an E Minor closer to Debussy than to Brahms. This writer owes the late violinist Oscar Shumsky a debt for having introduced him to the melancholy beauty of "To the Children," Op. 26, No. 7, which Mr. Wild effects with edgy wistfulness. Gorgeous music, gorgeous playing, and a high class production all the way.
Gary Lemco, Audio Auditions, Nov. 2004
To those who know and love this repertoire, this might just be as close to keyboard heaven as you can get. Rachmaninoff's songs for voice and piano - some seven sets, comprising eighty-five songs in all - were so intimate to the composer's intertwined life and art, that he ceased composing songs during the painful years of his exile from Russia. "I was only six when I first heard Rachmaninoff perform," recalls Wild, "and I attended his concerts regularly for the next twenty-two years until his death in 1943." Need we say the Russian master's emotion and the clarity and simplicity of his approach to the piano were a model the young American pianist strived to emulate? Rachmaninoff himself left but two transcriptions of his own songs, "Lilacs" and "Daisies." Wild transcribed thirteen others, which became a vital part of his recitals in the 1980's. Their titles show the emotional range of these songs: "O, Cease Thy Singing," "Do Not Grieve," "In the Silent Night," "Floods of Spring," "Dreams," "Midsummer Nights," "Where Beauty Dwells."
In a song like "The Little Island," which metaphorically pictures the secure innocence of childhood, the song setting and its transcription can be simple and restrained, as befits the subject. In a song like "Sorrow in Springtime," on the other hand, the emotions are more complex, and the music is correspondingly more powerful and disquieting: "Were I deaf to the laugh of the breeze, / To the nightingale's passionate voice / As he pours out his heart in a song, / Far away where the lilac trees bloom! / Would to heaven that the silence and dusk / Were not filled with such pain and despair!"
The CD program includes alternate versions of some of the songs, which is instructive for an artist who never presented a photostat copy of a piece from one recital to the next. For the universally popular "Vocalise," for example, the listener can compare the quicksilver brilliance of Wild's 1991 recording made at his home near Columbus, to the fulsome sonority and romantic depth of his 1982 New York recording. Remastering producer Michael Rolland Davis and engineer Ed Thompson have done a commendable job balancing recordings made in three different venues (the third a live recital in Montreal in 1983), creating the impression of a unified program.
Since Earl Wild is now 88 years old, I do not know how many more recordings we may expect from the Wizard of Fernleaf Abbey. The present program, remastered in 24-bit sound, is as beautiful as anything we have heard from this great artist, and may well serve as a handsome tribute to him.
Classik Reviews, Jun. 2004
Rachmaninov's songs for voice and piano count among his most heartfelt and beautiful compositions. Since his better-known piano preludes ooze melody from their every pore, why not adapt the songs for solo piano and you'll have what amounts to an additional set of Rachmaninov preludes? That's precisely what Earl Wild did with 13 of these gems. He doesn't merely weld the vocal lines onto the original piano accompaniments; instead, he fleshes out the textures in a style very much in keeping with the lush polyphony and galvanic rhythm typical of Rachmaninov's solo keyboard writing. And nobody plays Earl Wild transcriptions better than Earl Wild. From the bristling cascades in "The Little Island" to the wistful long lines and pent-up agitation of the familiar "Vocalise", Wild's unerring sense of style and utterly natural, singing technique hold your attention.
It's a joy to have these 1982 recordings, once available on the Dell 'Arte label, back in circulation along with 1991 remakes of "In the Silent Night" and "Vocalise", plus "Do Not Grieve", which Wild transcribed shortly after the Dell 'Arte sessions. In addition, live 1983 recordings from Montreal of "In the Silent Night", "Floods of Spring", and "Where Beauty Swells" prove slightly more animated and impulsive than their studio antecedents. Ivory Classics provides English text translations for the original songs in order to put the transcriptions in context: a thoughtful move. The 1982/83 sonics are somewhat dry and hiss-ridden yet remain perfectly listenable. Definitely one of Earl's Pearls.
Classics Today, May. 2004