Busoni & Liszt – David Wilde

0 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata in B minor

David Wilde (piano)

Recorded 14-16 June 2005 in the Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2007
Duration: 78 minutes



The pianist David Wilde (born in Manchester in 1935) is now something of a veteran, but this recording – made in the year of his 70th-birthday – finds him in superb form.

He does not though enjoy the very best recorded sound on this occasion; Delphian’s reproduction places the piano rather distantly and the tone is less than full. That said, as Wilde is apt to summon fortissimos and climaxes of a tsunami-like power, the space afforded him could be said to appropriately judged.

Of rather more importance is the performances, which are often remarkable. Busoni and Liszt make an apposite coupling, The Italian pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) – late in life, Claudio Arrau (1903-91) said that Busoni was the greatest pianist he had ever heard – had a love-hate relationship with Liszt’s music. To quote from Bryce Morrison’s booklet note, this ranged from “distaste to worship to final rejection…”. Morrison also calls Busoni and Liszt “enigmatic geniuses”. And whatever Busoni’s changeable opinion of Liszt, there is no mistaking some stylistic similarities between them.

What we term as ‘late Liszt’ can be likened to Busoni’s most searching creations, included in which is the Elegies (from 1907), music of profound searching – both musical and emotional – often darkly luminous in sound and visionary in terms of diversely harmonic invention (with some parallels to Debussy). Not that ‘elegy’ should suggest music always slow and inward; for while there is much that is, such is Busoni’s constant examination of possibilities that the listener is richly sustained over the seven pieces’ 40-minutes-plus duration – a ferocious tarantella explodes in the second piece ‘All’ Italia. In modo napoletano’ and quite what a quotation from “Greensleeves” is doing in the fourth movement (‘Turandots Frauengemach. Intermezzo’) is decidedly thought-provoking.

David Wilde plays with wonderful dedication – here and in the Liszt his technique is fully up to the monumental demands of both composers – and is fully attuned to Busoni’s explorative music, relishing its personality and individuality. And it’s Wilde’s own distinctiveness that gives us an account of Liszt’s great Sonata that can certainly be picked out from the crowd. A timing of 34 minutes easily suggests Wilde’s large-scale conception; yet at no point does his interpretation sag or appear wilful; and his immense conception is full of welcome individuality – and, for all the rhetoric and flamboyance, is always ingrained to the music (like what Wilde does or not) rather than serving the performer.

In short, this is music-making demanding to be heard. Busoni’s music remains not as known as it should be (Wilde is an outstanding guide to it) – and while Liszt’s Sonata has many claimants among pianists, Wilde has much to say about this titanic masterpiece that is his and his alone.

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