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Many years ago when talking to Vladimir Horowitz in America I mentioned that I was going to hear Earl Wild in the New York Proms series playing Weber’s Konzertstück and Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy. His eyes lit up: ‘Very good pianist’ Horowitz observed, his fingers skittering across the coffee table. Later Wild’s response to Horowitz was, ‘Tell him I think he’s pretty good too!’

So to Sony’s reissue of RCA’s Complete Album Collection: a glittering reminder of a stunning virtuoso. Forget the hard-bitten enamelled quality that could make short work of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau or Fauré’s Barcarolle No 3 (both on Ivory Classics) and celebrate instead a performance of Scharwenka’s first concerto where the ghosts of Chopin and Mendelssohn emerge bedecked with sequins, in a performance (try the second-movement Scherzo) that gives new meaning to high-voltage virtuosity. Complemented by encores by Balakirev, Medtner and d’Albert, and you have further confirmation of, at his best, one of the most life-affirming pianists of the century (though Wild’s diamond-cut-diamond brilliance forbids comparison).

In Liszt’s Concerto No 1, there’s an icy and rhetorical command with steam-whistle trills; in the Hungarian Fantasia, you’ll hear repeated notes like volleys of machine-gun fire. The sleeve note, perhaps wisely, makes little mention of Max Steiner’s Symphony Moderne which is hardly ‘moderne’ and which like the Warsaw Concerto and Leonard Pennario’s Midnight of the Cliffs, is a product of Tinsel Town. But in Gershwin, Wild returns us to a form as dazzling as it is inimitable. Cécile Gernhard (a one-time teacher at the Eastman School and a specialist in Mozart) may have exclaimed tartly, ‘Now that Mr Wild has joined us I suppose there will be a lot of Gershwin’, but such transparent snobbery is laughed to scorn in performances of Rhapsody in Blue, the Concerto in F and I Got Rhythm Variations of a wit and empathy known to few pianists in this repertoire. The Paderewski Concerto may be facile, but when partnered by the composer’s Fantasie polonaise (once described as a ‘makeweight’ or ‘gewgaw’) played with such dizzying aplomb, you listen to every teeming note. Virtuoso knowhow could hardly be more sky-high.

It now remains for a re-appearance of Wild’s discs The Demonic Liszt and The Virtuoso Piano (both on Vanguard Classics), along with Earl Wild: In Concert (1973- 1987) from Ivory Classics, to provide a continued sense of this pianist’s unique stature.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing