Earl Wildfs last recitals here, in 1986 and 1991, were devoted to Liszt and Chopin; in both cases, they were memorable and exhaustive surveys of important music by each composer. When the 86-year-old pianist returned, Sunday afternoon in Shumei Hall in Pasadena, his eclectic program listed familiar pieces by six composers.
But he thrilled his audience of nearly 500 as much as ever.
Awesome virtuosity, communicative music-making and a modest stage manner make Wild a most effective and admirable recitalist. A pianist giant like his now-departed contemporaries Jorge Bolet and Shura Cherkassky, he plays everything effortlessly and naturally, but his technical feats, though he achieves them quietly, take the breath away. For example, the closing work on this program was Lisztfs second Paganini etude, gLa Capricciosa,h a famous and frightening land mine of a technical challenge, which he tossed off with insouciance.
The encore that followed caused more gasping, not from speed or dexterity, but for its sheer beauty; that was the Nocturne by Ottorino Respighi, and it may have been the most touching moment of the afternoon.
There were others, however. For the many pianists in the room, there was the kaleidoscopic breadth of one of the peaks of the repertory, Beethovenfs 32 Variations in C minor. For the lovers of old-fashioned chestnuts, there was a gorgeously controlled Rondo Capriccioso by Mendelssohn.
For definitive and heart-melting Chopin, Wildfs group of the A-flat Ballade, the B-minor Mazurka, Opus 33, No. 4, and the Fantaisie-Impromptu created deeply impressed aural memories.
At the beginning there was Wildfs wondrous realization of an Adagio by Alessandro Marcello, and just before the end, he demonstrated his legendary technique and sumptuous tone in Lisztfs gLa Ricordanzah and gLes jeux dfeau a la Villa dfEste.h
He is one of a kind.