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During last year’s Liszt bicentenary there were few discs truly destined to be classics. Turn to a pianist of an earlier generation, and the difference between very good and great becomes blindingly obvious.

Earl Wild’s 1968 Vanguard LP The Demonic Liszt has been unavailable for years. It must be in the top 10 of all studio-recorded Liszt recitals, starting with the rarely heard Réminiscences de ‘Robert le Diable’. Power, speed, crystalline articulation and tuttis with end-of-scale runs hit firmly make for compelling listening. Gnomenreigen dazzles; Mephisto Waltz No 1 thrills (there are wild pauses at 7’28” before the pianist plunges back into the fray – a gripping account that offers a more satisfactory ending than Liszt’s); Réminiscences de ‘Don Juan’ coheres better than any other performance I have heard, its sometimes jejune thrashings here form part of a taut, logical narrative; the ‘Faust’ Waltz, with some cheeky Wildean decorations and other textual tinkerings, typifies this pianist’s unabashed celebration of virtuosity. That’s CD 2.

CD 1 is a selection of mainly short, popular works in live performances from various venues in the 1970s and 80s. Quite honestly, in this repertoire Earl Wild makes other pianists sound like amateurs. He takes risks, he exalts, he laments – he makes it sound easy.

This is a most welcome reissue, essential for every lover of exhilarating pianistic extravagance, but I do wish Piano Classics would make up its mind who its discs are aimed at. Pianophiles like to know the provenance of recordings and have their attention drawn to textual deviations such as those noted above, the Leschetizky-Wild ending for La Leggierezza and the subtle amendments to Funérailles.

JEREMY NICHOLAS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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