Magazine article Gramophone

Mining the Horowitz Archives: Rob Cowan Enthuses about a Horowitz Treasure Trove and Peter Quantrill Welcomes a Celebration of Marcel Dupre

Magazine article Gramophone

Mining the Horowitz Archives: Rob Cowan Enthuses about a Horowitz Treasure Trove and Peter Quantrill Welcomes a Celebration of Marcel Dupre

Article excerpt

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Another Sony Horowitz blockbuster collection--Vladimir Horowitz: The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983--that in some respects is even more revealing than 'Vladimir Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall' (11/13), and that's saying something. The reason? Received wisdom documents two Horowitzs: the coltish firebrand we'd experienced prior to his sabbatical in 1953 and the wiser, more thoughtful, more subtly musical pianist who emerged after his 'historic return' to Carnegie Hall in 1965. Had the firebrand vanished in the meantime? Until a fortnight ago I would have said 'probably, yes'. But the evidence presented here, on 50 CDs (110 [pounds stero9 or so), suggests a very definite 'no'. When it comes to scrutinising every note of every piece, Horowitz leaves no stone unturned: he picks, illuminates, disentangles, lays bare and cossets to an extent that other pianists wouldn't dare and if you're sometimes exasperated, even perplexed, by the results, you could certainly never be bored.

These are unedited performances, the bases of which were used for various Sony and RCA commercial releases. Take Liszt's B minor Sonata, first issued on RCA in 'The Horowitz Concerts 1977/1978', the performance date on both the originally released CD and this unedited version November 21, 1976. But the truth is that they sound nothing like each other. Right from the opening, aside from the different piano tone (and the presence of an audience), in this version you sense added tension, perspective and even delicacy. Yes, there are fluffs, quite a few at times, but the thunderbolt attack, ebb and flow and widened dynamic range approximate a full-on musical colossus rather than an old man revisiting his fiery youth. Scriabin's Fifth Sonata provides a similar case in point.

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Then there are the seven (!) versions of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 28, Op 101, the first five dating from 1967-68, conceptually alike though often different in detail, specifically in terms of nuancing and chord weighting, not to mention the absence or presence of minor errors. Jump then to Boston and New York in 1983 and the elegant acrobat falls from his tightrope, with wrong notes galore (compare the second movement in the performances from May 12, 1968, and May 15, 1983), though much of the expressive magic remains intact. The same two 1983 recitals also document two of three versions that we now have of Horowitz playing Schumann's Carnaval (a third, also from 1983 but recorded in Tokyo, is available to view and hear online). The New York performance is the best of the three, a blend of muscular attack, pointed wit and romance, occasionally dazzling, and as an overview not too far removed from the exalted vintage readings of, for example, Rachmaninov, Cortot and Michelangeli. The Boston performance is the more prone to error (neither version is exactly pristine) but to have this kaleidoscopic sequence played by a man who in so many key respects seems like the pianistic embodiment of the commedia dell'arte is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

Other major works represented more than once include Rachmaninov's Second Sonata (again, the earlier the version sampled, the better it is) and Schumann's Concerto Without Orchestra, Humoreske (especially good) and Kreisleriana, not to mention coundess shorter works by various composers. And of course there's that Horowitz staple, Chopin's 'Funeral March' Sonata, the March on its own movingly played in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was touched to read that Horowitz had refused to play in the American South because of the Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation. In fact, three months prior to his death, King had written to Horowitz thanking him for his support. The March was played in context without applause but the real stunner is the performance of the complete sonata that Horowitz gave at the White House on February 26, 1978, a reading that fully matches his incendiary RCA studio recording of 1950, swift, impetuous to a fault (another example of the old demon reborn), and played with its first-movement exposition repeat intact. …

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