CHOPIN by Horszowski: Through Text and Sound = Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21: Movements 1-2; Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35; Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, Op. 22; 24 Preludes, Op. 28; Berceuse in D-flat Major, Op. 57; Etude in F, Op. 25, No. 3; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61; Valse in E Minor, Op. Posth.; Mazurka in C, Op. 56, No. 2; Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2 – Mieczslaw Horswzowski, piano/ Prades Festival Orchestra/ Alexander Schneider – Arbiter 161 (2 CDs) 78:43; 74:26 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
Thanks to the efforts of wife Bice Horszowski Costa, the legacy of Polish piano wizard Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) can emerge more completely from its otherwise hermetic seal. Horszowski absorbed the Chopin tradition through his own mother, Roza Horszowska, who had studied with Mikuli, Chopin’s assistant. One notation in Horszowski’s book on Chopin – Chopin: sa vie et ses oeuvres by Edouard Ganche – fait d’emotion et de simplicite states the maxim by which Horszowski rendered his Polish compatriot’s exquisite music.
The two movements from the Concerto in E Minor (July 1967) under Schneider certify the power and elastic style Horszowski commanded in Chopin, the union of free rubato and strict pulse. The entire concept sings aristocratically of noble and perfumed sentiments, at once bold and tenderly intimate. Horszowski’s glowing, bell-like tones pay tribute to his Leschetizky training and to a thorough absorption of the Chopin style. Schenider’s orchestral assistance proves ideally sympathetic, urgent and erotic, as required.
The Chopin 1841 Fantasie (rec. 14 December 1980) from Pistoia is one of three recordings from this date provided Allen Evans courtesy of Prof. Piero Santini. The sound proves a bit tinny, but the thoughtful funereal progression that opens the piece – not repeated – soon evolves into rolling arpeggios and a turbulent theme accentuated by well-delineated bass chords. Whether Horszowski conceivs the work as an “Ode to the Fallen” or not, his tempestuous performance resonates dramatically, even in the face of compromised sound. The Berceuse in D-flat Major (1843) resembles a Baroque chaconne, a series of intricate variants over a ground bass of three 6/8 measures. All of the Pistoia inscriptions suffer a degree of radio or electrical interference, but the sonic rewards of Horszowski’s elegant realizations more than compensate for the trouble. The “Raindrop” Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major completes the triptych of smaller works, a limpid rendering – almost a minute faster than that played in New York – interrupted by some stern harmonies and passionate outbursts in its middle section.
The Valse in E Minor (26 January 1990, rec. Kansas City) permits a glimpse at Horszowski’s pure bravura, when he wants it. So, too, the Mazurka in C Major (12 April 1987, New York) enjoys a muscularly virile approach to the Polish national dance. Chopin’s slow Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2 (26 February 1967, Baltimore) reveals a romantic poise and tripping melancholy, the middle section looms passionate and stormy. The Etude in F Major requires a master of syncopes, a pseudo-gallop that soon enough assumes a potent aggression. Horszowski makes us feel the transition to B Major, even as the black keys singularly disappear in the return, the pedal having been judiciously applied to secure the effect of legato playing.
Horszowski’s New York appearance 22 May 1973 grants us a full traversal of the grand 24 Preludes, Op. 28, a virtual Rosetta Stone for the Romantic piano. We must assume an amateur source for the recording, rife with hiss, crackle, and audience coughs. The unnerving asymmetries of the A Minor Prelude alert us that a real thinker manipulates the keyboard. The ensuing G Major Prelude could be subtitled “The Return to Life.” A nobly lyrical E Minor Prelude transitions to the fleet D Major Prelude. Rarely has the B Minor Prelude seemed to anticipate so thoughtfully Mussorgsky’s “The Old Castle” from his Pictures at an Exhibition. The A Major is pure “emotion and simplicity” followed by searing passion in F-sharp Minor. Is No. 9 in E Major a march to Calvary? The G-sharp Minor plants Horszowski solidly in the midst of an ardent, stomping mazurka. From earthbound demon we traverse to celestial musings, the legato of the F-sharp Major Prelude’s wafting its way through refined, nocturnal space. The usual hurricane of the B-flat Minor Prelude finds Horszowski’s reigning in some of its terrors, but only slightly. My own favorite, the A-flat Major, sings a cryptic melancholy, torn between tears and laughter. A shattering F Minor Prelude yields to the consolation of the E-flat Major, most songlike. For concentrated ferocity, try the G Minor Prelude, whose throes of passion quite overwhelm the recording device. The juxtaposition of the F Major and D Minor Preludes seems to marry Heaven and Hell, a la William Blake. The plunge into the abyss has hardly found a more alluring advocate.
The last of the New York contributions, the knotty Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61 (19 November 1976), a poetic realization somewhat obscured by muddy and watery sound, almost as though Horszowski were Ondine, performing beneath the waves. The hybrid passionate despair of the piece emerges, anyway, resilient in its dreamy yearning and eternal song of hope.
Having saved a couple of Horszowski’s Italian inscriptions for last, I auditioned the latter of the two, the Andante Spianato in G and Grande Polonaise in E-flat, Op. 22 (24 May 1983, Gorizia). Liquid arpeggios illuminated by a dazzling jeu perle announce the piece. Perhaps only Josef Hofmann rivals Horszowski here for tonal purity, and Horszowski is ninety years old! Horszowski includes the massive “orchestral” transition to the Polonaise, which alternately sings and lilts in plastic motion, a real coquette in her full trilled regalia. The mighty Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 (from Rome, 28 January 1958) exhibits a tensile momentum and almost breathless girth, despite Horszowski’s taking the first movement exposition repeat. A fascinating approach to the upward scales in the Scherzo makes the movement compelling; the middle section would have moved Schumann to tears. Again, in the course of the dire, lineal Funeral March, Horszowski interjects a heartbreaking nostalgia, that “voluptuous melancholy described in Polish as zhal.” A bitter wind sweeps across the plains of the mind in the finale, full of sound and no small fury.
The accompanying booklet provides Horszowski’s marginalia to Edouard Ganche’s study of Chopin, and I include one telling quote: “Chopin’s music is the music for those who comprise mankind’s elite, through intelligence and the heart.”