Hot Tracks

This is a collaboration between the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw and the German yellow label to reissue performances of Chopin's piano music by past winners of the Chopin International Piano Competition.

The 18 selected pianists date from the first competition in 1927, which Russian Lev Oborin won, all the way to 2010, when another Russian, Yulianna Avdeeva, clinched it.

In between are the famous likes of Maurizio Pollini (1960), Martha Argerich (1965), Garrick Ohlsson (1970), Krystian Zimerman (1975), Dang Thai Son (1980), Stanislav Bunin (1985), Li Yundi (2000) and Rafal Blechacz (2005).

Here, the Deutsche Grammophon archive is mined and handily rehashed, which makes for an excellent introduction to first-time listeners of Chopin's concertos, etudes, preludes, ballades, scherzos, polonaises and sonatas.

The notes make no mention whatsoever that no first prize was awarded in 1990 and 1995, so performances by second-placed artists (Kevin Kenner, Philippe Giusiano and the late Alexei Sultanov, by no means second-rate pianists) are also included.

Here is a true feast of piano's favourite composer, which include rare historical performances from Alexander Uninsky (1932), Yakov Zak (1937), Halina Czerny-Stefanska (1949) and Adam Harasiewicz (1955).



    Deutsche Grammophon

    479 5404 (11 CDs)

    4.5/5 stars

Only a few performances were recorded from the competition's actual rounds, but that should not be a deterrent.

Chang Tou Liang

The long-lived Earl Wild (1915-2010) carved a patchy concert career that awkwardly straddled the dying embers of the golden age of piano-playing and an era of objectivity and an obeisant approach to musical scores.



    Complete RCA Album Collection Sony Classical

    88875030742 (5 CDs)

    5/5 stars

The epithet of "the last Romantic" applied to him as well as contemporaries Jorge Bolet and Shura Cherkassky - major artists whose careers were sidelined for decades before being finally recognised in their old age for their uniqueness and individuality.

Wild recorded for many labels, but never received a sustained contract. This box set of RCA Victor recordings dating mostly between 1959 and 1973 showed what might have been.

All five discs house virtuoso works for piano and orchestra. The piano concertos by Xaver Scharwenka (No. 1 In B Flat Minor) and Ignacy Paderewski (A Minor) must simply not be missed for their over-the-top romanticism and luscious melodies which Wild simply revelled in.

His takes from 1969 to 1970 are still considered the gold standard for this underperformed repertoire, as are his 1959 to 1961 recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, Piano Concerto In F and I Got Rhythm Variations with the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler.

One will also not find a more outlandish account of Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy. Here, he adds his own flourishes and embellishments, which one suspects the composer would have encouraged. Wild was an outsized maverick talent who will be sadly missed.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe