Earl Wild: Chopin, The Complete Etudes
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At 77, Earl Wild realized his long-held ambition to record all the Chopin etudes, which have been in his repertoire for years. Given the legendary pianist's flamboyant reputation, however, the results are more mild than wild. His legendary technique, to be sure, is more than up to the task, but the inhibiting aura of posterity and permanence hover over the proceedings, not to mention the Urtext police. One misses the fire, abandon, and sense of risk Wild unfailingly brings to these works in concert. It is obvious that a seasoned master is at work, although I wish he had been more at play! The engineering is superb. --Jed Distler
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How pianists tend to play the set of etudes tend to encapsulate how the performers other works, which is why comparing the sets is quite enjoyable. There are direct approaches such as Maurizio Pollini, Murray Perahia, and more romantic approaches such as Alfred Cortot, and Shura Cherkassky. Personally I believe these works are more than just technical exercises. Earl Wild even at 77, perfectly addresses the technical challenges of each etude with ease, and plays each one with a beautiful and romantic sound. Earl Wild's set of etudes is one of the best sets of Chopin Etudes out there, and this is one of the best classical piano CDs to own.
The venerable piano virtuoso Earl Wild continues to challenge commonsense notions about aging as he keeps on delivering excellent performances of major works, such as those embodied in this new remastering of the 1992 recording of all 27 of Chopin's études (Op. 10, Op. 25, and the three later études). Playing a favored Baldwin concert grand piano in Fernleaf Abbey located in his home town of Columbus, Ohio, he made the original 20-bit digital recordings over a period of just five days. The sound is lively, resonant, and spatially well-imaged, with clear details and sensuous tone quality. Since I've not had access to the original 1992 recording, I cannot say how this 24-bit remastered disk (Ivory Classics 76003) compares with it, but it seems likely--on technical grounds, at least--to be a significant improvement.
Mr. Wild was 77 when he made this recording, but his technique appears to have been more than adequate to the task. His articulation of rapid passages is neat, clean, and even, with enough pedal to yield smoothness, but not so much as to blur details. His greatest contribution here, though, is in the poetry and musicality of his interpretations. He captures the musical essence of these fine miniatures--the shortest is less than one minute and the longest hardly more than five--and conveys it delightfully. This is perhaps the most enjoyable recording of the études available!
Chopin's études remind me somewhat of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, with its 24 preludes and fugues touching all major and minor keys. Chopin, however, while working in the majority of keys, does not attempt to include every one. Notable omissions are D major and minor, G major and minor, B-flat major and minor, as well as F-sharp minor, A major, and B major. Perhaps his favorite keys for the études are A-flat major, F minor, and A minor, each of which gets three. (Note that this doesn't prove an overall key preference among Chopin's works, which include several important works in keys omitted from the études.)
As a sometime wannabe pianist, I've attempted three or four of these works, with results I'd rather not discuss. Still, that limited exposure to the scores has embued me with admiration for the works, as well as for those who successfully perform them. These études are treasured monuments of the piano literature!
The liner notes include an excellent discussion of the études by James E. Frazier, and a good summary of Mr. Wild's long and outstanding career to date.
Congratulations are due to Mr. Wild for this five-star contribution to the recorded piano literature!
Why? It's simple, I suppose. Rather than astound us by the strength of his virtuosity, by slapdash bravado incurred merely to impress, or by exerting the forefront of his persona, instead of allowing the music to reveal itself, Mr. Wild impresses completely by his lack of artifice, his utter sensitivity, and his uniquely distinctive approach. By no means is there a want of passion or fire; afterall, Earl Wild is still Earl Wild. However, and this is the key issue, the reason Mr. Wild's Chopin keeps us unfailingly mesmerized is the endless and absolute poetry of his glowing performance.
Every etude impresses; every etude leaves an emotional mark; every etude, in Mr. Wild's hands, sounds newly-written, whether dreamy or impulsive, steeped in the deepest musical understanding and conception, the most penetrating awareness and clarity.
Yes, certain liberties are taken by Wild, but never at the expense of the music; in fact, the idiosyncrasies make the etudes all the more intriguing, all the more compelling. One can only speculate on how all these "facets" of Chopin's marvelously inventive miniatures escaped our noticing.... until now. This is Mr. Wild's "magic." And, in his case, would that it were so for us all--- with age has come a great, wondrous wisdom, generously shared.
[Running time: 66:15]