Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 1 = Works of HAYDN, SCHUBERT, SCRIABIN, KABALEVSKY, CHOPIN – Pristine

Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 1 = HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 62 in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52; SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat Major, D. 899, No. 3; SCRIABIN: Vers la flamme, Op. 72; Poeme in F-sharp Major, Op. 32, No. 1; Etude in F-sharp Major, Op. 42, No. 4; Etude in d-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12; KABALEVSKY: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Major, Op. 49; CHOPIN: Fantasie in f minor, Op. 49; Nocturne in e minor, Op. 72, No. 1; Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 29; Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2; Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 “Heroic” – Vladimir Horowitz, piano – Pristine Audio PAKM 071, 79:52 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

The immortal Horowitz returns to us from private archives to enchant and astound us.

This from Producer and Recording Engineer Andrew Rose: “This recording is the first of a collection of recordings made for Vladimir Horowitz’s private use of concerts given in New York’s Carnegie Hall. The recordings were captured on 78rpm acetate discs and survive in various states of disrepair in a collection held at Yale University.”

Horowitz performs at Carnegie Hall on 2 February 1948, and he appears in excellent form, with few slipped notes; and these become easily portable, given the sheer, electric current of his musicianship. The ringing sonority of the Horowitz keyboard always raises the (percussive) issue of lacquered hammers, but the etched, vibrant character of effects, especially in the spacious opening work (1794) of Haydn, his E-flat Sonata, proves beguiling. Horowitz quite flirts with the first movement, Allegro moderato, which embraces a pastiche of moods, landing on a full G Major chord. The music suddenly seems to pounce onto E Major, which becomes an exotic, chromatic landscape. If the music seeks forward shores that end with Beethoven, the lighter and quicker figures invoke Scarlatti. The Adagio in E Major proceeds as a stately fantasia-pavane, rich and ornamental, with modulations into C Major and e minor. This interior world reveals a Haydn deeply romantic and experimental in spirit. The Presto has its own surprises, opening with a series of Gs only to flutter into E-flat and brilliant, bravura style that presages virtuoso Mendelssohn while invoking Scarlatti. Horowitz opts for changing speeds and pulsations, a trait that will make his Chopin portion of the recital virtuosic and incandescent.

Horowitz was often wont to play Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu in G Major, but his shaping of the gorgeous melodic line over the liquid accompaniment brings us a mystery all its own, especially when Horowitz adjusts his dynamics with hypnotic effect. After this “accessible” poetry, Horowitz turns to the esoteric, erotic world of Scriabin, whose Vers la flamme (1914) means to transform all spirit into Promethean combustion. The opening semitone motif quickly becomes manic, while the intervals consistently create fourths (tritones) juxtaposed against spans of nine, eleven, and thirteen. If any composer saw the trill as a means of personal liberation, Scriabin is he, and Horowitz serves as high priest. The tiny Poeme in F-sharp Major (1903) conveys an ease and playfulness close to Debussy, but avoiding his style for a more muscular attitude. Air and water appear to merge into each other at will. The Etude in F-sharp Major, Op. 42, No. 4 (1903), equally sensuous, bears a luxurious affect, as elusive as it is glistening. The noted Etude in d-sharp minor becomes Scriabin’s “Revolutionary” Etude, with its percussive, repetitive chords and leaping left hand, all in volatile motion in a paroxysm of Horowitz ardor.

The Kabalevsky Third Sonata (1945) means to be a post-war commentary, pitting inexorable figures of disruption against a youthful spirit. Horowitz asserts a tremendous tension in the first movement, Allegro con moto, infusing the lyrical sections with melancholy and the bold, aggressive motives a diabolical energy. The Andante cantabile opens in triple rhythm in wistful melancholy, only to suffer intrusive elements in the minor mode. Horowitz quiets the disquieting muse of the passing dissonances, allowing a serpentine, dark bass line to prevail in the form of tolling bells. The Allegro giocoso combines march and waltz rhythms, a wry mix of Shostakovich and Richard Strauss. A sarcastic danse macabre?  Horowitz has the walls shaking before the last, meteoric, martial gesture brings the house down.

The recital proper ends with a Chopin group of five pieces—Andrew Rose tells us that downloads are available on the Pristine site of some twenty minutes’ more encore pieces— beginning with a shattering rendition of the Fantasie in f minor. Besides the grand tumult Horowitz can elicit, note the suave coloration he provides in the lengthy exposition of this eclectic fantasy-ballade. As in the wild “Heroic” Polonaise performance, when Horowitz unleashes the demons, the effect becomes even more remarkable for our knowing the music so well. At respective times, we can feel the waves pounding into shore at Majorca, and the Husssars galloping for a ride into the Valley of Death. In between, the Horowitz sensual magic traverses two nocturnes and his patented First Impromptu, all to the delectation of an audience mesmerized at every turn.

—Gary Lemco

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