Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall – The Private Collection = SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17; BALAKIREV: Islamey; CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major; LISZT: St. Francois de Paula merchant sur les flots – RCA Red Seal

by | Oct 25, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall – The Private Collection = SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17; BALAKIREV: Islamey; CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60; LISZT: St. Francois de Paula merchant sur les flots – Vladimir Horowitz, piano

RCA Red Seal 88697 54604 2, 50:22 ****:


Beginning in 1945, Russian virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) hired a private company to record all of his solo recitals in Carnegie Hall. Only auditioning the surviving recitals occasionally, the shellacs constituted a forgotten, somewhat deteriorating legacy bequeathed Yale University. When producer Thomas Frost auditioned the records in 1992, he decided that they constituted “a series of stunning recitals, revealing Horowitz at the height of his Middle period.”

The Schumann Fantasy derives from a Carnegie Hall recital 8 April 1946. More improvisatory than his later 1965 “Historic Return” performance, it is also less prone to wild wrong notes. For Horowitz, few occasions prove as alchemical as that of the stage performance, and this Fantasie is no exception, although the Islamey from 23 January 1950 could have heated New York City all winter long.  The Schumann, originally conceived as an homage to Beethoven, permits Horowitz various indulgences in Romantic rhetoric, long caesuras, impassioned recitatives,  cascades, leaping chords and rhythms, and introspective poetry. Despite the merciless swish that plagues these lacquer transfers, the Horowitz magic, his innate musicality, blossoms and engages us, especially in the “legendary” aspect of the first movement. In the maerchen of the second, and the long, sensuous nocturne–a la Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata–of the third, Horowitz exerts his bold, aggressive nature, often as whimsical as it is impassioned.

The Islamey of Mily Balakirev is a piece Horowitz touted for one season only, and we are fortunate to hear it at all. For all the bravura pianists like Barere and Cziffra bring to this warhorse, there can only be one Horowitz. Flamboyantly assertive, the conception no less basks in oriental languor, a direct evocation of hookahs, veils, and assignations in the perfumed air of Arabia. Never less than titanic, even the lyrical sections bristle with suppressed fire. That the Carnegie Hall audience did not simply melt from atomic radiation during this performance must testify to their hard-core conditioning to the bolts of Zeus.

Horowitz played Chopin to suit his own taste, perhaps more natural in the mazurkas than any of the Chopin self-styled acolytes. The Barcarolle (28 April 1947) receives a large canvas, the Venetian waves in some tumult, and even more frenzied in the final pages.  But the expressivity of the conception wipes away much of its super-heated mannerism, the thick layering Horowitz applies in the bass line, made more pungent by his tendency to apply lacquer to his Steinway’s hammers.  Given Chopin’s advanced harmonic language, the alternately pearly and stinging progressions weave a liquid tapestry of rare Slavic color.

Finally, the 1863 St. Francis Legend, picturing St. Francis walking on the waters in the Horowitz performance of 3 February 1947. Curious that Horowitz and Brailowsky favored this legend to the first Legend, St. Francis’ Bird Sermon; and Horowitz makes his own emendations to the Liszt original.  Horowitz sets a clarion immutable sonority and inner pulsation for this brooding showpiece, mounting a series of hymns or doxologies that verge on bombast but remain steadfast, serous and sincere without affectation, despite the massive contours Horowitz invokes.

For the keyboard collector, or that connoisseur who simply must possess every Horowitz treasure, this issue celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Horowitz’s passing must already be designated “indispensable.”

— Gary Lemco

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