Horowitz: The Legendary Berlin Concert = SCARLATTI: Piano Sonata in B Minor, K. 87; Piano Sonata in E Major, K. 380; Piano Sonata in E Major, K. 135; SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana, Op. 16; LISZT: Valse caprice d’apres Schubert–No. 6 from Soirees de Vienne; RACHMANINOV: Prelude in G, Op. 32, No. 5; Prelude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 32, No. 12; SCRIABIN: Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1; Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12; LISZT: Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104; CHOPIN: Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 7, No. 3; Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53; SCHUMANN: Traumerai; LISZT: Valse oubliee No. 1 in F-sharp Major; MOSZKOWSKI: Etincelles, Op. 36, No. 6 – Vladimir Horowitz, piano
Sony 88697604812, (2 CDs) 48:18; 42:38 *****:
Forty-three seconds of “Bravo!” serve as a prelude to the 18 May 1986 Berlin recital by Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989), who had last been present in Berlin fifty-four years prior, 1932. The original tapes of the radio broadcast had been buried in the archives of the old West Berlin service Sender Freies, recently rediscovered and remastered by Kaspar Wollheim.
Horowitz opens with a meditative Sonata in B Minor, K. 87 by Scarlatti, already resonant and redolent with the brilliant Horowitz tone and shimmering patina. Next, the perennial E Major (old Longo 23), its pearly trills as treads a dainty gavotte in sterling layers, the little antiphonal drums and horns in the treble and bass registers. Horowitz relishes every chord, the harmonies dripping with alternately pungent and silky eroticism. The last of the group, the K. 136 in E Major, proffers a series of rolling or skipping arpeggios in brightly hard colors, the runs more like quicksilver strums of burnished guitar.
Schumann’s 1838 suite Kreisleriana celebrates the imagination of E.T.A. Hoffmann and his capacity to capture mania and polar opposites of personality, perfectly suited to Schumann’s penchant for writing movements in two parts, devoted to Florestan and Eusebius. The D Minor opening flurry is all knots and intricacies, but then the reserved B-flat Major “maerchen” section counters with limpid, three-hand effects. Section three introduces G Minor, the key on which the suite ends. Agitated and even ecstatic, this music provides a classic Horowitz vehicle for sweeping, clarion gestures and throaty instrumental voicings. Martial sentiments return more dreamy than anxious, but tinged with that sense of nostalgic reverie that defines the Schumann style. Before the large arch ends, Horowitz has plumbed some devastating depths, presumably Kreisler “freed from the shackles of society by the ‘madness’ of music.”
The dreamy sections in G Minor–and the mazurka sections in B-flat and D minor–possess that Horowitz lilt that makes the work akin in its askew way to Chopin, to whom it is dedicated. In the latter bars of section six we can hear echoes of the March of the Davids-Leaguers Against the Philistines. Horowtiz takes the C Minor episode very quickly, rather a dazzling exhibition of digital dexterity. Its softer side in E-flat Major lulls us into a cocoon of tonal security. The last section in G Minor offers glimpses at the future B-flat Major Symphony. Its gentle canter becomes a glowing tone-poem under Horowitz, the liquid tones suddenly erupting into a storm of energy from a musical lion who boasted, after Louis XV, “Apres moi, la deluge!”
Liszt’s Soiree de Vienne strike us in bold colors, the panache and verve reverberant, as visions of Old Vienna swirl or clamor by in Schubert’s plastic figures. Any distinction between German dance, laendler, and waltz breaks down in the graceful tumult of notes Horowitz elicits. If the keyboard has been a raging tiger, it suddenly becomes a purring domestic cat, all slinky curls and fleet motion. The last of the set ends with a series of chime-like chords that evanesce into angelic runs, lights of a by-gone age. The same dragon-fly tissue haunts the lovely G Major Prelude of Rachmaninov, a performance that rivals in every way my preferred realization by the composer’s beloved Benno Moiseiwitsch. The G-sharp Minor basks in more oriental harmonies, veils of sound over a ostinato rhythm and cascading arpeggios often reminiscent of the D Minor Concerto.
Few pianists have penetrated the erotic mists of Scriabin with as much vocal security as Horowitz, and his C-sharp Minor Prelude’s step-wise excursion in tonal ambiguity proves immediately compelling. So, too, The D-sharp Minor, among the most passionate of miniatures, quietly implodes at first, then gradually erupts outward, its hesitations overcome by the sheer urgency of the rendition, the torrential voluptuousness of its own suffering. The immediate applause from the Berliners speaks volumes. Follows Liszt’s great homage to Petrarch in the form of his Sonnet 104, a necklace of musical periods and variations of tender poetry. Each gesture gathers ever more grandeur, increased volume and velocity, the trills stratospheric, the pounding bass chords Stygian, as appropriate to the chagrins of love.
Enter Chopin in an all-too-brief triptych. The melancholy A Minor Mazurka dances cautiously, its sonorities as elusive as its nervous tonality. A quiet fever suffuses the condensed odyssey of poignant emotions and recalled national pride. The F Minor from among Chopin’s earliest essays in the form arises from a dark impulse of self-assertion, the metrics sliding brilliantly in and out of phase to announce itself as a grand march. No accident that the A-flat Major Polonaise likes to be called “Heroic,” for Horowitz it makes a darling of itself in alternately sheer negligee and ferocious armor. Given the fireworks of the occasion, this may well become any auditor’s favorite rendition of this perennial testament to Polish liberation, notwithstanding the celebrated efforts by Rubinstein, Cziffra, Francois, and Cherkassky!
The eternal Horowitz encore, Traumerai from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, reminds us that we are such stuff as dreams are made of. Liszt’s Forgotten Waltz will not be forgotten by anyone who was present for its whirling dervish of a performance, whose late pages exude a diaphanous dew, opals and liquid sapphires. At last, the real “Fireworks” of Moritz Moszkowski, surface glitter par excellence. The sugary bagatelle lasts but two and one half minutes, so you must put up with minutes of world-class adulation from Berlin, who clearly embrace Horowitz as their Citizen of the World.