Age is finally catching up with the American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild, who will turn 90 in November. But the aging process, it would seem, has largely affected his legs.
When he walked out on Saturday for a recital at the Mannes College of Music, part of the school’s two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, he needed a steadying hand to help him up the few stairs that led to the stage. But once seated at the keyboard, he looked terrific, with a glint in his eyes and his thick white hair stylishly groomed. More important, for a solid hour he played works by Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin impressively, and also performed his own shamelessly showy and amusing piano fantasy on “Jarabe Tapatio,” better known as the “Mexican Hat Dance.”
Though, understandably, his playing has lost some incisiveness, accuracy and power, it still abounds in fluidity and naturalness. Ease and elegance remain the hallmarks of his pianism. He played through his formidable program without a visible droplet of perspiration on his brow, without so much as unbuttoning his sky-blue sports coat.
He began with Beethoven’s early Sonata No. 7 in D, a long and technically demanding four-movement work. Though you don’t turn to Mr. Wild for probingly intellectual insights into Beethoven, his playing was ebullient and spontaneous. He utterly stilled the audience, which packed the hall, with his gravely beautiful and boldly slow account of the somber second movement, played with great expressive freedom yet magisterial restraint.
If the passagework in Liszt’s “Jeux d’Eau a la Villa d’Este” was sometimes, let’s say, approximate, Mr. Wild’s performance was a marvel of watery textures and fetching colors. His approach to two well-known Chopin works – the Third Ballade and the Fantaisie-Impromptu – might have seemed a remnant of an Old World conception of Romanticism, with a liberal sense of rubato. But this was impetuous and engaging playing.
After intermission the announcer, author and pianophile David Dubal held an onstage interview with Mr. Wild, who, witty and irreverent as ever, told of playing the flute in the Navy Band, his stint as house pianist in the early days of NBC television and other stories. He also shared some musical tricks he amuses himself with, like playing the Chopin etudes down a step in key, or revealing how by just adding a plaintive harmony to a descending D major scale you can evoke the “suffering Tchaikovsky.”
Nearly ninety year old pianist performed only European concert in the Concertgebouw
By Erik Voermans
There is no lack of pianists who took to the stage at a very high age. Rubinstein, Horowitz, Arrau and Cherkassy all were well in their eighties when they last performed, all of them advertised as ‘the last great romantics’. So let’s regard Earl Wild as the very very last great romantic. He will be ninety in November. Last night he gave a recital -his only in Europe- in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw which was packed. This will be without a doubt his last recital in the Old World. When he waved to the public during the final applause it was more than a thank you – it felt like a farewell. A deeply moving moment.
Earl Wild, with his eighty years of concert experience, has always been the man of super virtuosity, veiled in great and scintillating elegance. He still plays with incredible ease, his noble figure still and upright, while his enormous hands appear to soar over the keyboard. But age does count at this point in time. Due to physical unease the program was shortened a little, as a result Mr. Wild’s outrageously complex Virtuoso Etude based on Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm was left out.
Still, this was an unforgettable recital. Even though several notes were missed in Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 and the Fantaisie Impromptu op.66, and Ballads Nos.1 and 3 were played with a certain shallowness, Liszt’s Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este marveled in cascades of colour and a delicate jeux perle that is rare among pianists today. With an extremely refined pianissimo in the Largo e mesto from Beethoven’s Sonata No.7, he made such wonderful shades appear from his Steinway, the audience could not help but applaud at the last note. Wild gestured his fingers as if he were saying: “hold on, two more movements to come”.
During the final piece, the Mexican Hat Dance, Wild’s motor memory failed him for a second, therefore he had to start anew. Once again applause, once again his lulling hands. “Now I will start again” he said. And this time it went right. But the encore that many hoped for was too much to ask.
Perhaps Earl Wild will play Carnegie Hall on November the 29th, to celebrate his ninetieth anniversary.
De Telegraaf, 27 September 2005
Historic opening of Master Pianist Series
By Roeland Hazendonk
This season the Master Pianist Series opened with a unique performance by the nearly ninety year old American pianist Earl Wild. The ‘Romantic Legend’ broke a record in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with his performance at such a high age: Arthur Rubinstein’s last performance was at the age of 87 and Vladimir Horowitz ended his career when he was 80 years old.
Wild is the last living example of the great romantic tradition that originated before World War II. He hasn’t performed in the Netherlands that much – it has been nearly ten years since he played here – but he has built a tremendous career in his home country. Of course, a ninety year old will not play as fresh as someone in his fifties, but last night there were numerous moments in which a remarkable past revived in the present.
A dim reflection of that past surfaced in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.10 No. 3. Wild’s interpretation was never really great, the tone lacked essence and the typical round touch of the old master rather diluted the accuracy of Beethoven’s music. Besides, the performance was hindered by wandering tempi and technical imperfections that will no doubt have something to do with the age of the pianist. With today’s knowledge of authentic Beethoven in mind, this interpretation sounded somewhat dated as well.
Nothing of the sort in the Chopin interpretations Wild played after the interval. Particularly during the poetic movements a beautiful intimate Chopin appeared, of a kind one does not hear anymore and which, in contrast to Wild’s Beethoven, is very near to the concept of this music.
In the First Ballade Op.23, Wild regained the strength that must have weakened over the years. Here and there a note was missed – a practise which was actually quite common for many great pianists half a century ago – but the virtuosity of the final movement of this piece was of a superb tone and technically flawless. The Fantaisie-Impromptu is more poetic than the First Ballade, something which was expressed through Wild’s beautifully tender and wonderfully coloured interpretation.
With his own virtuoso piece, Mexican Hat Dance, Wild revived the nineteen-thirties. By tradition of Liszt and his pupils, Wild produced a spectacular piece of salon music based on a traditional Mexican Mariachi tune. After a failed first attempt, Wild played his Hat Dance with all the swing that belongs to the pre-war era. Although this is a kind of sophisticated bar music, this piece contains various musical surprises and harmonic twists.
Trouw, 27 September 2005
A kiss, a doctor and a blood pressure meter lend wings to Earl Wild
By Christo Lelie
A doctor seated on the first row, a blood pressure meter in the dressing room and a reduced program. These are some of the details to Earl Wild’s only concert in Europe, last Sunday in Amsterdam. A recital Marco Riaskoff, the promoter of the evening, labeled the most risky in his career. But you don’t get a ninety year old to perform on stage every day.
It became clear this was going to be a very special concert, when Earl Wild was escorted to the piano by his partner and manager, many years his junior, and received an encouraging kiss. The pianist opened the recital with his own adaptation of an Adagio by famous baroque composer Marcello. At times his playing was nervous and insecure, but instantly his lyricism and orchestral approach made a deep impression on the audience.
Earl Wild was one of the greatest virtuosos of his time. But this was hardly audible in the opening of Beethoven’s Sonata op.10 nr.3.The first movement, particularly in the right hand, was too inaccurate and not as striking as expected. But then the adagio that followed removed all doubt. This unparalleled interpretation, performed liberally and with a tremendous depth, was wonderfully rich in its orchestral colorings.
Compared to his Beethoven, Wild put up a braver face in Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este of Franz Liszt. Besides Rachmaninov and Gershwin, Romantic music is well known territory for Wild.
After the interval things only got better with four pieces by Chopin. Compared to the younger pianists of the Master Series, Wild’s tempo was a breath of fresh air; he never felt the need for showing off the ability for speed and volume. This was illustrated by the narrative and lyrical expression. It was marvelous to hear him build up anticipation in the introduction of Chopin’s first Ballade with such simple means. In the second Scherzo, Earl Wild chose to put breathing space, simplicity and lyricism before technique. Even more intriguing was the third Ballade, in which the pianist fused technique and interpretation into a glorious whole. His Fantaisie Impromptu, the last Chopin piece he played, had a clarity and cantability that I have never heard with anyone else.
The fact that born virtuoso Earl Wild is still capable of practically anything at the age of ninety, was demonstrated with the delicious Mexican Hat Dance, one of Wild’s own compositions, that was played at the end. Although he got stuck, stopped and started again, he played this piece with an unprecedented youthful flexibility. At the same time, it became clear that an encore would not be included in this moving historical evening.
The celebrated grand old man of pianists left the hall waving farewell. Chances are small he will ever play here again.
NRC Handelsblad, 26 September 2005
Velvety melancholy with Earl Wild
By Wenneke Savenije
Can melancholy sound vital and powerful? It can, when American master pianist Earl Wild, who came to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw to celebrate his 90th anniversary, transforms melancholy into resonating magic with his enormous hands.
True to the tradition of great romantic pianists, Wild is fond of transcriptions for piano. He produced more than forty transcriptions, among others the slow movement of the Oboe Concerto in D by Alessandro Marcello, according to Wild ‘one of the most elegant melodies of the eighteenth century’.
To enhance the lyrical effect, Wild transposed this piece to C minor and slowed down the tempo. In this metamorphosis, Marcello’s Adagio appeared to be the ideal vehicle for Wild’s strongest trump; his wonderfully melodious touch that resonates peace, warmth and an open mind.
Wild revealed the recipe for his extraordinary timbre in an interview in 1984: “I only lift my hands from the keyboard to relax the muscles in my arms. I never lose contact with the keys. By resting your hands just above them one can keep contact and tonal control.”
Wild turned out to be more of a singer than a builder in his messy but expressive interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7, Op. 10, No. 3. The cast-iron architecture of what may be regarded as Beethoven’s best sonata had the air of a card-house in Wild’s version. Apart from minor technical flaws that are insignificant with a legendary virtuoso like Wild, the maestro lacked a sense of timing and suspense. But even here the pianist excelled in his velvety rendering of the melancholic Largo e mesto, in which Wild spontaneously and intuitively rendered the awe-inspiring moods.
With his spirited interpretation of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu (op.66), Wild proved that a man of ninety can still make music like a restless youth. In Chopin’s other pieces, Ballade No. 1 (Op.23), Scherzo No.2 (Op.31) and Ballade No.3 (Op.47) Wild managed to seduce with the disarming elegance of a romantic dandy. Water murmured up to heaven In Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este of Liszt. With the memorable magnificence of a Grand Seigneur Wild laughed off a blackout during the tempestuous interpretation of his adaptation of the ‘impossible’ Mexican Hat Dance.