Pianist Earl Wild, a daring fellow indeed who has two of the fleetest and most accurate hands in the business, gave a whole program at Wolf Trap last night of some of those spectacular keyboard transcriptions with which romantic virtuosos used to dazzle their audiences.
The concert lasted about two hours, but all told there were enough notes to have stretched well into the morning by normal standards.
These showpieces emanate from an era during which people like Liszt and Tausig used to transform opera and symphonic material to the piano for their own purposes. Symphony orchestras and opera companies were less common.
Not many people still play them -- except a Horowitz who taps off the end of a concert, or somebody like Wild who has the stamina to play nothing else for two hours.
Some of the transcriptions emerge these days as mostly camp, like Brassin's reworking of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," which thundered away at the end of the first half.
But a few are remarkably sophisticated, like Rachmaninoff's deft transcription of Mendelssohn's scherzo from "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Somehow Rachmaninoff preserved the fabled lightness of Mendelssohn's wind parts in the process. And the pianist is faced with having to play lickety-split without ever getting loud, which is very hard. Also, lest anyone be allowed to think the work is just another ordinary transcription, Rachmaninoff introduced witty little harmonic accidentals just to remind you that he was a historic composer, too.
The crowd could not have been much over 1,000, though it consisted of aficionados, who cheered away.
In the louder works, Wild tossed off cascades of trills, octaves and runs almost as if it were easy.