Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Latest Review

Vladimir Horowitz At Carnegie Hall-The Private Collection: Mussorgsky & Liszt
Vladimir Horowitz At Carnegie Hall-The Private Collection: Mussorgsky & Liszt

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding even by Horowitz's high standards, June 30, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
Sony has dipped into the archives at Yale University for this first ever release of performances by Vladimir Horowitz at the height of his powers.

Horowitz was well known for his transcriptions of such works as Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies and Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever. But he faced criticism when he altered significant portions of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition - which was and remains far better known in Ravel's transcription for orchestra. Truth be told, Mussorgsky's original version is one of the most poorly written pieces - in terms of writing for the instrument, not musical ideas - in the piano repertoire. Before Horowitz, few pianists even bothered playing it at all. Those that did often made alterations, such as Moiseiwitsch in 1945. But it took someone with the guts and imagination of Horowitz to undertake a wholesale rewriting of the piece - which angered a lot of purists. In fact, Horowitz's changes are far more subtle than the firecracker like passageworks he afforded in his other arrangements.

Previous to this release, there were two issued recordings of Horowitz playing his arrangement of Pictures. The studio recording, from 1947, and a live Carnegie Hall performance, from 1951. Most reviewers have tended to prefer the 1951 recording, which has some incendiary passagework in The Hut on Fowl's Legs. I've been partial to the 1947 performance, which comes across as more of a single piece, rather than sectionalized. (Unfortunately, the 1947 recording has suffered from particularly poor remastering in BMG's Gold Seal Horowitz reissue.) The performance released here, from April 2, 1948, is more along the lines of the 1947 recording - although Horowitz, no doubt under the "battle-conditions" of live performance, does push tempo and articulation to extremes at times. Each Picture leads as part of the whole to the inevitable climax of the Great Gate of Kiev (appropriately, Kiev is the town where Horowitz grew up).

The 1949 recording of Liszt's Sonata in B Minor is another matter entirely - this performance is like nothing you've ever heard. Neither the cheetah like sprint of Horowitz's famed 1932 recording nor the labored grandiloquence of his 1977 remake can compare with this overwhelmingly incendiary performance. There will no doubt be controversy here, as Horowitz cuts 22 bars from the central Recitativo section of the work - but this performance must be heard.

The sound has been excellently restored by Jon Samuels. A few quibbles: This disc is not will filled - and with the huge cache of unreleased material in Sony/BMG's vaults, there is no excuse. There was room for Horowitz's versions of Liszt's St Francis Walking on the Water and Balakirev's Islamey, also recorded at these concerts. And this CD, like many of Sony's new releases, is packaged in cheap paperboard - so handle with care.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Tree of Liberty

I had hoped against hope that any change and reform in Iran would be peaceful.  I was remembering the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines.  But the Basij, which is the Iranian regime's non-uniformed Gestapo, is murdering innocents who only want their voices heard.  If there is a revolution, it's going to be bloody.  I hope, at least, that it's successful.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Excellent Editorial about DADT

Obama needs just a bit of Truman's courage

by Dick Polman

"...what's really weak is this notion that Obama is too overwhelmed with weighty matters to deal at this time with the serving gays. To put that argument in perspective, let's return to Truman.

Here are just some of the weighty matters that plagued the president during the first half of 1948: Soviet aggression in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria; China, on the verge of falling to the communists; a severe domestic housing crisis; a Republican-led Congress that was fiercely resisting his pitch for national health insurance, a higher minimum wage, stronger pro-labor laws and expanded education aid. Moreover, all the polls predicted that, when Truman stood for reelection in November, he would be toast."

Friday, June 12, 2009

I've been thinking about the shooting in Washington, D. C. this week. Racism, anti-Semitism, Homophobia, and all other forms of hate are all part of the same bitter soup. To tolerate one is to tolerate all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Joe Scarborough is a tool

This morning, I was watching Joe Scarborough plugging his book on the Today Show. He’s not as extreme as some Republicans, but he’s still a tool. His take on why the Republicans have taken such a drubbing during the last two elections is a study in denial. Basically, he stated that Republican losses are because the party abandoned its conservative principles and got American into the mess in Iraq. Well, kudos to his admission about Iraq. But George W. Bush’s (and his party’s) ratings tanked in the aftermath of domestic overreach and Hurricane Katrina. 


Indeed, the resurgence of Conservatism for one last gasp is the result of a bizarre set of circumstances that no fiction writer would dare invent. The Conservative movement was already waning in 1998 when Republicans, attempting to impeach President Clinton, lost seats in that year’s election. The election of 2000 threw the Presidency to Bush on the basis a fluke in the Electoral College which has never been properly addressed. This also occurred in 1876 and 1888. I will not go into the Florida election fiasco here. But one whether believes Al Gore or Bush “won” Florida, the fact is that Gore won 543,895 more votes in the national election. Nationally, the American people rejected Conservatism.


During the first months of his term, Bush was largely seen as ineffective and not up to the job of being President. Over the summer of 2001, his approval ratings began to tank and most analysts were concluding he would be a one term President.


9/11 changed all that. As has often been the case, the American people rallied around their chief, and Bush’s approval ratings rose to stratospheric levels. It enabled him to sell a foreign policy agenda that would never have gotten out of the gates had 9/11 not occurred. Between 9/11 and the shameless, terror-baiting tactics of the national Republicans (which included defaming the character of Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Max Cleland), the 2002 midterm elections bucked the historical trend and gained seats for the party in power. This was the peak of the Conservative resurgence.


The 2004 election was close, certainly not a landslide and not a mandate by any means. Bush’s popularity was already waning on the basis of the quagmire in Iraq and anemic economic growth. If the Republican Party had not deployed the same snake-belly tactics as they had in the 2002 election, it’s doubtful they could have won. John Kerry, a qualified candidate who was unable to connect with America’s heartland, lost by 2.5 percentage points.


By early 2005, Bush approval rating was hovering at the 50% mark and began to sink when he proposed privatizing Social Security. It dropped further in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – not because of the abandonment of Conservative principles, but because of the lack of government response. Broad swaths of the American public believe that there are times when the Government is the solution to the problem: that includes natural disasters, and in binding contracts between generations.


It’s useful to remember that the economy was not technically in recession when the Republicans dramatically lost both houses of Congress in the 2006 midterms. The main issues which sank the Republicans were continued outrage over Katrina and the pileup of American casualties in Iraq. The Republicans lost power, and the last nails were driven into the coffin of 20th Century Conservatism not because the government did too much domestically, but because it did too little.