Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Review: Horowitz plays Schumann

Schumann: Kinderszenen Op15
Schumann: Toccata, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, Arabeske, Blumenstucke
Vladimir Horowitz,

5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring and inspired Kreisleriana..., November 11, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews

Schumann was Vladimir Horowitz's favorite German composer. (Once, when asked why Horowitz felt "at home" in Schumann, his wife responded that "they were both crazy".) This compilation, recorded from 1962-1969 and issued on CD in 1987, offers both the Florestan and Eusebius sides of Schumann's dual nature.

Here we have a reflective Kinderscenen, featuring some remarkable voicing. Horowitz obviously plays the work as an adult looking back on childhood, which is how Schumann wrote the work. This recording is notably more straightforward than the pianist's live 1982 performance, yet somehow less moving emotionally than the wizened recordings from Horowitz's final concerts in 1987.

Less successful is the Toccata, which is pianistically unstable and was heavily, and audibly, spliced. This does not rise to the remarkable level of the pianist's famed 1934 recording.

I vividly remember the first time I heard this 1969 recording of Schumann's Kreisleriana. It was September of 1985 - I was fresh out of high school. I worked at a classical record store and bought a cassette tape (it was a "Masterworks Portrait" reissue that also had the 1962 Kinderszenen and Toccata).

Dusk was falling and it was misting outside, as I slipped the Walkman headphones on. I had already heard Rubinstein's recording of Kreisleriana about a year earlier and thought "this piece is boring." The rapture of Horowitz's performance sent me into another world. Every moment held me spellbound. By the time I got home, I was soaked through. During my walk I took no notice of the weather.

Horowitz learned Kreisleriana in the 1930s, but did not play it in public until 1968. Several attempts to record the work in concert were not successful, and Horowitz came to the conclusion that he needed the peace and quiet of a recording studio to achieve the concentration for a performance suitable for posterity. Horowitz recorded the work at one inspired session on December 1, 1969, and this may well be the most successful Kreisleriana ever recorded. Ironically, Horowitz, who often had trouble holding together a Beethoven Sonata, makes this structurally splintered work emerge as one piece. This is one Kriesleriana which is never rambling or boring. There is virtuosity here, but never for its own sake, and there is poetry in plenty. This stands alongside the 1932 Liszt Sonata and 1951 Rachmaninoff Third Concerto as one of Horowitz's greatest recordings. It should be pointed out that this is the only CD reissue (MK 42409) of Kriesleriana where I can guarantee that Horowitz's approved takes are used. All issues from 1993 onward (with the possible exception of the Blu-spec release, which I have not heard) use alternate takes, which are noticeably different from the original LP and this CD issue. Although the performance is basically similar, there are several important differences in detail.

It's interesting to compare this version of Schumann's Arabeske, from 1968, with Horowitz's studio recording from 1962. The earlier version features swifter tempos, more delicate colors, and a more structural approach, which contrasts with the comparatively laid-back, yet somehow bolder performance given here.

The Blumenstucke (Flower Piece), Op. 19 is almost a companion to the Arabeske. Horowitz plays the piece in a rather breezy manner, with less rubato than his 1975 recording.

The sound is more than acceptable here, and especially fine in Kreisleriana.


Anonymous said...

Hank I was wondering if you've had the opportunity to try the blu-spec version. Do you know if it's been edited? Thanks.

Hank Drake said...

I haven't heard the blu-spec version. Sorry!