Friday, 10 June 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2011)

EARL WILD Piano Music
Chandos 10626 / *****

This is a tribute to great American pianist Earl Wild (1915-2010), for decades a proud upholder of the Romantic piano tradition when it was deemed unfashionable. He performed his last recital at 92 and mentored younger pianists (Singapore’s Abigail Sin was one of his students) well into his nineties. He also championed Gershwin music, once considered beneath “serious” pianists. Over an hour of this highly entertaining disc is devoted to Wild’s transcriptions of Gershwin, the big work being the Grand Fantasy On Porgy and Bess, 29 minutes of the best melodies dressed in his wondrously florid and subversively humourous style. He was more than a match for Liszt, Thalberg and Grainger.

In his Improvisation on Someone To Watch Over Me, he transforms the tune into a tango, but wickedly incorporating the Sinfonia from Bach’s Second Partita and a fugue. The Seven Virtuoso √Čtudes, based on Gershwin songs, have now become standards for today’s pianists. Finally, Wild’s own Piano Sonata (2000) shows a rare cognizance of popular 20th century styles, the finale being a literally wild Toccata a la Ricky Martin. Young Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang is a revelation, her rocking performances very much the equal of the late master’s own recordings. Have fun.

Decca 277 9662 / ***

On April 29, when American troops were busily dispatching of Osama ben Laden and Singapore was gearing for General Elections, a small matter of the Royal Wedding took place in London. The pomp and pageantry of the ceremony, including the exchange of vows by Prince William and Catherine Middleton and various exhortations, was recorded in its entirety. The music amounted to almost an hour’s worth. There was to be no Elgar, his place taken by the underrated Charles Hubert Parry (1848-1918), whose music ought to be better known.

The Queen’s entrance was played out to his regal March Of The Birds, while the anthem I Was Glad greeted the bridal party. His Blest Pair of Sirens, representative of the best in English choral tradition, accompanied the signing of the Register. There were hymns for certain, both traditional (the ubiquitous Jerusalem, also by Parry) and contemporary (John Rutter at his most saccharine), partnered by the London Chamber Orchestra and organist Robert Quinney. Walton’s Crown Imperial provided the exit music, with Widor’s Toccata unceremoniously faded off, giving way to the carillons of Westminster Abbey. A pleasant diversion, but one more for the dyed-in-the-wool royalist.

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