Chesky continues their reconditioning of the Reader's Digest catalog with this release. I remembering seeing the Grieg and Saint-Saëns paired on an old Quintessence LP, but my recollection of the sound was vague. The customized remastering brings it all back: voluptuous big-hall sound and ideal piano placement. Gerhardt and Wilkinson were a charmed team in the Sixties, the Rachmaninoff concertos with Wild being their high-water mark.
The three works are presented here in order of descending artistic merit - Grieg (minor masterpiece), Saint-Saëns (warhorse), and Liszt (masterpiece in a dubious genre). To compensate for this fall off, Earl Wild cranks up the virtuoso effects. When he explodes on the hammer-busting descent of the Liszt - yanking back the curtain for the allegro eroico entrance of the gypsy theme - you believe there is nothing he can't do. Yet when it's over, I find myself returning to the latter movements of the Grieg, where I can pay attention to something besides the piano.
Philippe Entremont has made two excellent recordings of the Saint-Saëns. I have the earlier one, adequately captured on a CBS Great Performances (MYK 37805). Both he and Wild take breakneck tempi; Entremont goes delightfully over the top in the Presto, while Wild pulls in the reigns slightly, maintaining an elegant sheen. This concerto is rife with melodic caricatures, and Wild exploits them all; he makes the scattered runs of the second movement an elfin rollick.
Forgive Jim Sveda of "The Record Shelf" for picking Sviatoslav Richter's lumpish account of the Grieg with Lovro von Matacic. We all like to play favorites.
Go, Earl Wild!
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan