CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, “Funeral March”; Barcarole in F-sharp Major; Ballade No. 4 in F Minor; Polonaise No. 7 in A-flat Major “Polonaise-Fantasie”; Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3; Scherzo No. 1 – Vladimir Horowitz – Naxos Historical

by | Mar 16, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 “Funeral March”; Barcarole in F-sharp Major, Op. 60; Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 (two performances); Polonaise No. 7 in A-flat Major, Op. 61 “Polonaise-Fantasie”; Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3; Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20  – Vladimir Horowitz, piano

Naxos Historical 8.111282,  76:31 (Not Distributed in the USA) ****:

I vividly recall when a Sunday at New York’s Carnegie Hall might be a “Horowitz Sunday,” with a recital by the Master to be given promptly at 4 PM, with the long lines already assembled at 7 AM, at 57th Street and 7th Avenue for tickets, legitimate or scalped. Mark Obert-Thorn has graciously restored a number of RCA 78 rpm matrices that did make it to LP format, and one inscription, the 28 December 1949 Ballade in F Minor from Town Hall, that had been withdrawn from publication.

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) still generates a legendary magic for the powerhouse repute he brought to music, the unadulterated flair of the convinced romantic virtuoso, the shimmering line perhaps exaggerated by his having lacquered the hammers of his chosen instrument. Horowitz was, moreover, the most conscientious of craftsmen, studying the complete oeuvre of any composer even before addressing the most minute of character pieces–his excursions into Faure, for example. Having surveyed the present restoration, I can testify to the enduring monumentality of Horowitz’s sonority, as in the double octaves–and their rapidity–in the B Minor Scherzo (Hunter College, 28 April 1951), or the levitation of his singing line in the E Major Etude (Hunter College, 29 April 1951), making us all lament that he never recorded the entire sets of Op. 10 or Op. 25. Even the rejected performance of the Op. 52 has moments of absolutely unleashed power and sweep, just before the sudden diminuendo prior to the tumultuous coda. The “official” recording of the F Minor Ballade (Manhattan Center, 8 May 1952) emanates a clarion serenity; and even its more dynamic, tragic figures are subsumed into a classically poised architecture. 

The opening Sonata in B-flat Minor (Town Hall, 13 May 1950), with the repeat taken in the opening Grave–Doppio movimento, enjoys a supple shapeliness, the urgency tempered by moments of tender eloquence.  The secondary theme of the Scherzo is a case in point: after a series of brisk, staccato, detached chords, Horowitz delivers a silken legato melody over a series nuanced ostinati. The da capo is as sudden, quicksilver, and ferocious as it began, a titan’s fist raised against Time itself. The secondary section of the Funeral March collapses dynamically into an intimate orison of uncanny softness and beauty. From Carnegie Hall comes a gorgeous Barcarolle (23 February 1957), rife with sensuous gondola songs and urgent Venetian waves. The real tour de force is the Horowitz specialty, the so-called Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61 (Carnegie Hall, 23 April 1951), whose snaky, episodic structure consistently challenges pianists to bind into one, rounded whole. Horowitz gobbles the labyrinthine piece in one fell swoop, providing it not only the requisite sense of motivic cohesion at the opening, but imbuing a mazurka-rhythm even within the outer contours of the polonaise. This disc reminded me of many joys in Horowitz I might have otherwise forgotten. Heartily recommended.

— Gary Lemco

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