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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Adventures in Commode Repair

Back during our house hunting days, Danny and I spotted a house on a nice quiet street. The home, built in 1922, was beautiful on the outside. The inside was another matter. Several of the rooms had been remodeled, but each change was done in the style of the respective era: so there were 1970’s kitchen cupboards and avocado green appliances, a 1980’s fireplace, and 1950’s bookcases. It was atrocious. As it turned out, the house had serious moisture problems in the basement, so the question of that house became academic. But I determined that if Danny and I got an older house, we would try to keep it true to the period. (Within reason, I’m not doing without TV or the Internet.)

The house we bought was built in 1942. There have been several changes, including the addition of a gas fireplace about six years ago. But much of the house is unchanged from the original construction. One of the original pieces, as it turns out, is the toilet. It’s an American Standard Cadet, and the date stamped on the underside of the tank lid indicates it was built in 1939. Our hunky inspector, Greg, noticed a leak which he indicated was coming from the connection between the toilet and floor. Greg explained the procedure for fixing it, and since the seller was already taking care of some electrical problems (to the tune of $1,400), I agreed to repair the toilet.

As it turned out, the leak was actually coming from the connection between the tank and the bowl. The bolts holding the tank in place were badly corroded and needed replacement, and upon inspecting the mechanism, I determined that the parts would need to be replaced. A simple repair, I figured. I had no idea what I was in for this past Sunday.

I soon discovered a large amount of sludge between the tank and bowl, so the tank had to be removed and cleaned. It took over two hours to remove the tank, including over one hour just to unscrew one rusted bolt. I had to hammer in a screwdriver between the tank bottom and bolt to hold it in place (which was risky because I could have cracked the porcelain) while I twisted off the nut. Not a pleasant experience.

Once the tank had been removed, I carried it down to the basement and discovered the part that covered the vent was sealed tight, which made a replacement tank an easier option. However, we were unable to find a tank that fit our older toilet. So, we had to find a wrench large enough to unscrew the over 3” wide mechanism. As it happened, there were several trips to Severance Town Center Home Depot over the course of that Sunday, and I want to take this opportunity to point out that the staff at that particular location are neither knowledgeable nor helpful.

After much grunting, sweating, and straining, I was finally able to remove the part by using the wrench while Danny simultaneously held the other end and the tank itself in place. We then thoroughly cleaned the tank interior and exterior with bleach and an SOS pad. It shone like new.

Before reinstalling the tank, we painted the area behind where the tank sits that the previous owner had skipped - - fortunately, he’d left the spare paint behind. Carefully, I added piece by piece of the new mechanism while Danny handed me the parts, and after a few adjustments, our “new” commode worked perfectly: quiet, efficient, and no leaks.

Time spent on project: 8 hours

Cost of replacement mechanism and tools: $50

Satisfaction due to not having to call Joe the Plumber for help: Priceless

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Home Sweet Home

After a lot of struggle, frustration, and exhaustion, Danny and I have finally completed the move to our home. We got access to the house on Saturday at noon. As soon as we entered the living room, Danny and I shared a celebratory kiss.

We had already bought supplies at Costco and unloaded them from the car as soon as we arrived. Although the interior was basically ok, there was a lot of leftover dog hair, so I got to work on the floors. Despite the dog hair situation, Danny and I still want to get a dog of our own and have been checking out shelters.

On Sunday, Danny experienced the “joys” of yardwork while raking the entire front and back yard. We discovered a lawnmower in the garage but haven’t tested it to see if it works. If so, I may give the lawn a quick mow before winter sets in. We also met our immediate neighbors, Loraine, a nice older lady, and Paul, who has a dog (we’ve heard the dog, but haven’t seen it yet) which barks every time we close our car doors.

Monday was installation day: we had the cable set up and the washer/dryer installed. I was worried the latter might not fit down the narrow stairwell to the basement, but the movers were just barely able to squeeze them in. The house (built in 1942) has a laundry chute, a great time saver. We had considered spending the Monday night at the house, but with the movers coming early Tuesday morning, decided to head back to the apartment for one final night.

Tuesday was a frustrating ordeal, mostly because of continuing problems at Richmond Park Apartments. The elevator nearest our apartment hasn’t been working for ten months, so the movers had to haul our stuff all the way to the central elevator, which caused considerable delay. It took until 4pm for the delivery to our new place to be complete. And then there was the dilemma of unpacking. Danny and I did all we could before collapsing in the evening.

We awoke early Wednesday to pick up Zsolt for his trip to the airport - - he’s heading to Japan to play some concerts. Zsolt treated us to a comforting early morning breakfast at First Watch Café (we all ordered the same thing) before we battled rush hour traffic. After dropping Zsolt off, Danny and I headed back to the apartment where we left a few items behind. I plan to head there again on Saturday to do a quick cleanup and finalize our departure.

Over the past few days, I’ve reviewed a few small problems which will require attention soon, including a repair to the toilet that I plan to take care of this weekend. Although the house doesn’t appear to be a money pit, as an older dwelling it will definitely be a work pit for the foreseeable future. Ah, the joys of ownership...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

People seem to be focusing on the total head-to-head numbers in the Presidential election tracking polls, which currently show Senator Obama with a nine point lead. These charts indicate why those numbers are solid.

The last figure is the most important. For the last year, the Republicans have been trying to paint Senator Obama as, at best, an elitist, and at worst, a terrorist sympathizer and closet Muslim. Yet, more Americans indicate that Obama shares their values. Even though the lead is narrow in the last chart, judging by the other numbers, it's solid.

Given this, I believe that, barring a political earthquake, Senator McCain cannot win. Political races tend to tighten in the final weeks, but I still believe that Obama/Biden will enjoy at least a 4% popular majority and end up with at least 330 Electoral votes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Latest Review

IGOR Lovchinsky - Debut Recording

Balance is the Key, October 13, 2008
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews

While dinosaur mainstream classical labels such as Sony/BMG and Deutsche Grammophon are busy reissuing their back catalogues (often for the umpteenth time) or promoting pianists of questionable musicality (Lang Lang), smaller labels have been searching for interesting artists to promote. Ivory Classics, started by pianist Earl Wild and his partner, Michael Rolland Davis, is one such label, and Igor Lovchinsky is one such pianist. The secret to playing Chopin's Mazurkas lies in balancing the dance elements with the fantasy/tone-poem aspects of the works. Vladimir Horowitz and William Kapell have been notably successful in this. Lovchingsky's imaginative interpretations bear in mind that the Mazurkas are, first and foremost, peasant dances. Lovchinsky favors formal clarity over romanticism in the Polonaise-Fantasie. There is little of the rubato heard in many performances of this piece, the pianist preferring a firm rhythmic hold and steady tempo. While many pianists use Scriabin as an excuse to engage in keyboard histrionics and near psychotic posturing, Lovchinsky plays the Sonatas 2, 5 and 9 as true sonatas - - and the great works they are. The pianist's performance of the early 2nd Sonata suits the ardor of the young Scriabin, and demonstrated why the composer was often referred to as the "Russian Chopin." I've never heard the 9th Sonata, the so-called "Black Mass" played with such a unified approach . Lovchinsky easily outdoes Ashkenazy's rather soggy reading, although for me Horowitz's satanic versions will always reign supreme in this work . Nevertheless, Lovchinsky's performances refute Aaron Copland's assertion that Scriabin's sonatas were "great mistakes" of the piano literature. Earl Wild's arrangements of several of Gershwin's songs are reflections of the popular works as heard through the ears of a super-virtuoso. It takes formidable technique, and sound musical judgment to balance the many pianistic layers and make the works "sound", and Lovchinsky succeeds here as few others have. Speaking of sound, Ivory Classics favors a microphone placement which is an ideal balance between intimacy and luxurious spaciousness. Lovchinsky's performances are helped by a beautifully tuned, voiced and regulated Shigeru Kawai piano. If only the major labels put out such excellent products.


My name is Hank Drake. I'm a writer and former pianist living in Cleveland, Ohio.

You can find my Amazon reviews here. I also contribute articles at AllAboutClassical and maintain a personal blog.

I decided to begin publishing on Blogspot when I learned that another user was pagiarizing my work, but will be combining the contents of my other postings and putting them here.