Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vladimir Horowitz: The Original Jacket Collection

Horowitz Deserves Better, October 29, 2008
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States)

Several years ago, Sony Classical began reissuing some acclaimed older recordings as the Original Jacket Collection. The concept was simple: each box contained ten CDs which exactly duplicated the content and cover art (obverse and reverse) of the original LP issues. The attraction for collectors was obvious. But some complained about the short playing time of the CDs, so Sony began adding bonus tracks to take advantage of the CDs playing time.

The only thing that this issue has in common with the Original Jacket concept is that facsimiles of some original LP covers are used. In fact, the programming on these CDs does not duplicate or even approximate what Horowitz authorized back in the day. Rather, the contents are mostly the same as RCA's Gold Seal reissue of the 1990s, which was generally panned by critics and collectors. The single composer per disk programming is a mish-mash of Horowitz's studio and live recordings from the 1940s to the 1980s, haphazardly thrown together as if they were of equal merit. In addition, this set uses the same remastering as was used for the Gold Seal reissue, which was often done from second or third generation sources because RCA's vaults were in disarray at the time (they have since been organized). The only exception to this is Schumann's Concerto without Orchestra (Sonata No. 3 in F Minor), for which RCA accidentally released the wrong takes on the 1989 CD issue. For this set, the correct, Horowitz authorized takes have been used - - all the better because it's quite a performance and far superior to the unsteady one issued on "Horowitz ReDiscovered."

Many of these performances are justly legendary, from the Scriabin 3rd and 5th Sonatas, to Horowitz's own Variations on the Gypsy Dance from Bizet's Carmen. While I agree with Neville Cardus's remark that hearing Horowitz play with orchestra is like "trying to get the best of a fine wine while eating roast beef", the pianist's recordings with Toscanini show the pianist and conductor in excellent form. Has there ever been a more honestly played Brahms 2nd or a more incendiary Tchaikovsky 1st? Horowitz's Rachmaninoff 3rd with Ormandy may be imperfect technically (the pianist was 74 years old during his Golden Jubilee season), but the performance is ripe with memory and a sense of occasion - a true valedictory.

Still, Sony/BMG's cavalier treatment of the Horowitz legacy is a disappointment. What Horowitz deserves from Sony/BMG is no less that that which has been afforded to Arthur Rubinstein and William Kapell: A comprehensive reissue of all of his recordings, newly remastered from the best sources, programmed in a way that Horowitz would have approved. That he has not received it as of yet is a slap at his memory, and a discredit to Sony/BMG.

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