horowitz rediscovered

Horowitz: Rediscovered (2CDs)




CD 1
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Blumenstück, op. 19, Sonata no. 3, op. 14 – “Concert sans orchestre”
CD 2
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Prelude in G, op. 32/5, Etude-tableau in e flat, op. 39/5
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Valse oubliée no. 1 in F sharp, Au bord d’une source (Années de pélerinage: Ier année, Suisse, no. 4)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz in a, op. 34/2, Scherzo no. 1 in b, op. 20
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Serenade to a Doll (Children’s Corner, no. 3)
Träumerei (Kinderszenen, op. 15, no. 7)
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Etincelles (Morceaux caractéristiques, op. 36, no. 6)
Etude-tableau in D, op. 39/9


As with Richter Rediscovered from the same source, we had been in no danger of forgetting this giant of the keyboard. All the same, the recovery of a whole Carnegie Hall recital, recorded in 1975 complete with its group of four encores and for many years lost in RCA’s labyrinthine vaults (the full story is told in the booklet), is an exciting event. As a matter of fact, the Vladimir Horowitz site on the Internet reveals that this recital has actually circulated in a pirate version, but I tremble to think what it sounded like. The recording quality here is good 1970s stereo, though I doubt whether even the equipment of today would be able to cope with the thunder of Horowitz’s basses, the violence with which he at times draws attention to a new musical line. Has any other pianist extracted such a wide range of sound from the piano?

There is nothing actually new here to the Horowitz discography, but the sheer sense of participating in an actual recital, unedited, makes this album indispensable no matter what other Horowitz versions you have of these pieces.

A unique mixture of tenderness and wilful impetuosity informs Horowitz’s Schumann, teasing the little Blumenstück into life and throwing a scorching searchlight on the teeming textures of the “Concert sans orchestre”. He truly “orchestrates” the music, bringing a different colour and timbre to each strand, creating an effect that is both rich and extraordinarily transparent. This is really living dangerously, yet ultimately everything is under control and the pianist’s wayward temperament mirrors the composer’s own. The same nervous tension, though, renders Träumerei a tad less convincing than some of Horowitz’s other performances.

Unfortunately, genius has its darker side. In the second half Horowitz takes time to settle down, starting with two Rachmaninov miniatures that are mercilessly pulled out of shape; in the Etude-tableau he also (or so it sounds as recorded) goes through the tone with little pity for the instrument. There is worse to come in the 9thEtude-tableau which concludes the encore group since he appears too tired by now even to bash the right notes.

And yet the two Liszt pieces bring out the poet in him, the “Valse oubliée” unhurried and tenderly inflected, “Au Bord d’une source” relaxed and sparkling yet quite free of gratuitous virtuosity. Chopin was another composer who could elicit a remarkable response from Horowitz and the Valse is notable for its truly “speaking” phrasing. But when it comes to the Scherzo, in spite of a nicely turned central section, I can only call a spade a spade and say that the outer sections contain some of the most crassly insensitive piano bashing I have ever heard. It was with gratitude and relief that I turned to the Rubinstein recording, as I did to the plainer-speaking but truthful Nina Milkina and Craig Sheppard in the Rachmaninov Prelude and Etudes-tableaux respectively (but the technical quality of Sheppard’s recording shows up poorly beside this new issue).

In the case of the Debussy “Serenade to a Doll” Horowitz’s clarity and impish wit make a viable alternative to Gieseking’s gentle affection, though I suspect the latter is closer to what the composer had in mind; as for Moszkowski, this is music which was made for a Horowitz to bring it to life.

Taken in the round, this is a unique snapshot of one of the greatest of all pianists playing live; while other Horowitz issues have been compiled from live performances, to hear him unedited elsewhere you have to go to some of the last, variable, televised concerts. The timing of the two discs may seem ungenerous, but all praise to RCA for issuing it as it is rather than pad it out with extraneous material. I have a dark suspicion that it will re-enter the catalogue in a few years’ time shorn of a couple of encores to fit onto a single CD, so get it while you can.

Christopher Howell