Classical Music Guide - Saturday, July 25, 2015 - Written by Donald Isler

David Dubal Lecture - Richter and Wild

In honor of the hundredth anniversary of the births of Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) and Earl Wild (1915-2010), pianist, author and radio personality, David Dubal gave a talk about them, and included recordings of some of their performances.

Mr. Dubal said that Richter (whom he once hoped to interview, but never did meet) played in movie houses when he was young to make some money. His original aims were to accompany singers, and conduct. Then, surprisingly late, he heard the Chopin F Minor Ballade, and started to learn the solo piano repertoire. Despite this unusual start he produced a staggering legacy in recordings, covering a huge repertoire.

Mr. Dubal finds in Richter a "dark quality in a lacerated soul."

Glenn Gould, who admired Richter, said Richter's recordings were uneven because he didn't know how to go about organizing a recording, and offered to produce a Richter record. Probably to head this off, Richter said he would let Gould produce one of his recordings if Gould, who no longer performed EXCEPT in the recording studio, would play a live concert which Richter would arrange.

Among other things, Mr. Dubal said:

Richter refused to perform the Emperor Concerto of Beethoven because his teacher, Heinrich Neuhaus, played it so well.

In later years he performed in the dark, so that the audience would focus on the music, not the performer.

He almost never played transcriptions.

He refused to teach.

Richter was the dedicatee of Prokofiev's Ninth Sonata, and performed the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth.

In addition to seeing a film in which Richter plays Franz Liszt, we heard recordings of him performing:

Moussorgsky - Great Gate of Kiev, from Pictures At An Exhibition
Liszt: Feux Follets
Liszt: Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor
Haydn - Sonata No. 50 in C Major, last movement
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in B-Flat major, Op. 23, No. 2
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C Minor, Op. 23, No. 7
Prokofiev: Gavotte from Cinderella (excerpt)
Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor ("Appassionata"), Op. 57, last movement (excerpt)

The Great Gate of Kiev showed the strength and solidity for which Richter was famous. Feux Follets, which, like the previous recording was from his famous 1958 Sofia recital, was fast and fearless or, as Mr. Dubal, described it "Mendelssohn turned diabolical!"

The Liszt Transcendental Etude was staggering (the fastest there is, said Mr. Dubal), and the Rachmaninoff Preludes were similarly impressive.

Interestingly, Richter's favorite composer, according to Mr. Dubal, was Haydn, the last movement of whose 50th Sonata we heard.

In contrast to Richter, Earl Wild was someone David Dubal knew well, and many of us remember him from his many New York appearances, including recitals at this Festival up until 2005. Mr. Dubal played large sections of an interview with Wild made that year, in anticipation of Wild's 90th birthday.

As there were more than a few technical problems, and because of time considerations, the Wild section of the program was a bit shorter than the Richter.

Concerning famous people he encountered, we learned that Wild sometimes substituted for Oscar Levant playing Rhapsody in Blue, that he knew Gershwin (Wild: "Gershwin, at a party, sat at the piano as if it was a throne!"), and that he enjoyed his lessons with Egon Petri, especially when they improvised for each other.

Mr. Dubal referred to Earl Wild's almost 900 page autobiography A Walk On the Wild Side, which was released after his death (and reviewed by me for the Classical Music Guide on September 7th, 2011). It did seem ironic that one thing Wild told Mr. Dubal was not to be jealous of other people, as that book was seen by some as a last chance to get even with MANY people (including several people I knew well!).

His sense of humor, and his generosity were also mentioned. Regarding the former I recall a master class in which Wild imitated a woman playing a Chopin Etude with all the expressivity in her body language, and none in the sound coming out of the instrument. Regarding the latter, Mr. Dubal once asked Wild if he had the Schumann Fantasy and the Liszt B Minor Sonata currently in his fingers? "Yup" he answered both times. Would Wild be willing to come play for a class at a school for the blind where Mr. Dubal was going to speak about those works? "Sure" said Wild. And he did.

We listened to recordings of Mr. Wild play:

Rameau/Godowsky: Tambourin
Chopin: My Joys
Gershwin/Wild: the Man I Love

The Tambourin was delightful, and My Joys was particularly beautiful, almost magical. The Man I Love was passionate and absolutely gorgeous.

It was good to have a chance to hear, and think more about these wonderful musicians from the recent past.

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