Monday, August 31, 2009

My latest review

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: Private Collection:Schumann,Chopin,Liszt & Balakirev
Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: Private Collection:Schumann,Chopin,Liszt & Balakirev
4.0 out of 5 stars Horowitz Rocks the House with Islamey, August 31, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)      
Sony/BMG is digging into the Vladimir Horowitz archives at Yale University and unearthing more treasures. The items on this CD were recorded privately for Horowitz's use, and sat in his attic for decades before he donated them to Yale a year before his death.

Horowitz's fans will already be intimately acquainted with his 1965 live performance of Schumann's C Major Fantasy, available in edited and non-edited versions. This 1946 recording shows a more volatile approach to the opening movement, with the tempo pushed forward and doubling of bass notes. Much of the tenderness of the 1965 recording is not to be heard here. The March bursts forth at a brisk tempo, but there will be controversy due to Horowitz's deletion of 19 measures midway through. Indeed, I can find no musical justification for this cut. The pianist throws caution to the wind during the infamous contrary motion leaps, and there is a clinker toward the end. Horowitz settles down for the contemplative last movement and there are some lovely moments and beautiful shadings. But on the whole I prefer the more poetic 1965 performance of the Fantasy, wrong notes and all.

Evidenced by his recordings, Horowitz saw Chopin's Barcarolle as more of an erotic tone poem than a gondolier's song. His performance of the piece grows fervent towards the climax, and is more straightforward that his 1980 recording.

Two items here are new to the Horowitz discography: Balakirev's Islamey, and Liszt's St. Francis Walking on the Water - both works with extensive revisions by Horowitz himself. Wanda Toscanini Horowitz was opposed to the release of these two works, on the ground that they were flashy repertoire that Horowitz did not play in his later years. (It should be noted that Wanda approved the release of Horowitz's disjointed 1986 Schubert B-flat Sonata, so her musical judgment was suspect. In any event, copies of these recordings have been circulating on the Internet for years.)

St. Francis is problematic, partly because the work itself combines Liszt's best and worst qualities: spiritual luminosity and empty bombast. Horowitz tilts his performance toward the latter, adding interlocking octaves that suggest stormy weather, and an apocalyptic ending. Under his hands, the piece could be retitled St. Francis Surfing on the Waves during a Hurricane.

Islamey, said by some to be the most difficult piece for solo piano ever written, gets a no-holds-barred, virtuoso performance. Horowitz begins the work at a breakneck tempo and, save for the lyrical central section, never lets up. But with all the speed and fury, Horowitz's coolness and nonchalance point out the work's humorous aspects. In addition to adding a more firecracker ending, Horowitz tightens some repetitive and rambling sections. The audience can barely contain itself and the raucous applause erupts well before the pianist plays the work's final two chords.

The sound quality, restored by Jon Samuels, varies here. The source material was 78RPM and 33 1/3RPM discs, and only single copies were made. The Schumann and Liszt items suffer from wear and tear (likely by Horowitz himself) and sound muffled, while Islamey sounds nearly pristine. A few quibbles: At 60 minutes, this disc is not well filled - and with the huge cache of unreleased material in Sony/BMG's vaults, there is no excuse. And this CD, like many of Sony's new releases, is packaged in cheap "digipack" paperboard - so handle with care.

No comments: