The XII International Piano Festival and Competition continued last night in Tawes Theatre with a recital by Earl Wild. The renowned American pianist offered works by Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Ravel, Faure' and Debussy.
Books I and II of the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, by Brahms, were given complete. Wild's virtuosity was at its best in this ravishing and fiendishly difficult score, with awesome technical feats tempered by sweetness at the heart of the piece. Ravel's "Jeux d'Eau" and Faure''s Barcarolle in G-flat Major, Op. 42, were given as one lovely set. Each accent was marked with bounce and verve, each phrase seemed to float in a rich musical rainbow. These were followed by Debussy's "Danse," a tiny gem of a tarantelle that proved exhilarating in this original piano version.
Wild's voice is distinctive. His individuality can mean many things throughout the vast range of his repertory, but the risks that he takes in making music live are not always met with success. Haydn's Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVII No. 7, was an unabashed vulgarization of the classical style. Putting aside the problems of anachronistic timbre, the muddy excesses of this performance were caused less by the nature of the modern concert grand than by the grand and loose manner of the performer. The outer movements were too fast, particularly the Presto ma non troppo finale; in any event, such speed would require cleaner playing even in an older instrument. An air of desperation hung over the opening, the largo had lots of pauses and lots of power but ultimately made little sense. He also arpeggiated the last two chords of the sonata, against the score, debilitating Haydn's indicated fortissimo.
Another brassy arpeggio marred the opening phrase of Chopin's Ballade in A-flat Major. An air of cheap romance filled his reading, an example of how great music can sound like shallow salon fare.
The festival continues tonight with a concert by duo pianists Anthony and Joseph Paratore.