Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My review of: Vladimir Horowitz- The Complete Original Jacket Collection

Vladimir Horowitz- The Complete Original Jacket Collection
Vladimir Horowitz- The Complete Original Jacket Collection

4.0 out of 5 stars Horowitz finally gets his due - sort of, December 2, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
After being released in a piecemeal, disorganized manner for decades, all of Vladimir Horowitz's RCA, Columbia, and Sony recordings are available in one convenient, budget priced boxed set. (The Deutsche Grammophon recordings are not included, of course, nor are the HMV/EMI.) This set contains some newly issued performances, which I will comment on below. For space reasons, I refer you to my other reviews on Amazon for the previously issued material.

While this 70CD set is not remastered from scratch, this set does use the best existing versions of each recording. As for the RCA recordings, wherever possible, the Gold Seal versions from the 1980s and early 1990s are not being used. For example, the Beethoven Moonlight and Waldstein Sonatas from 1956 utilize the Classics Library master from 2004, which is far superior to the Gold Seal CD that was issued around 1990. Likewise, the 1943 Tchaikovsky Concerto with Toscanini uses the source material that appeared in the 1992 Toscanini Collection, rather than the lower quality version that was used in the Gold Seal CD issued in 1990. There are numerous other examples. For those of you who are wondering, the correct takes for the 1976 Schumann Concerto without Orchestra are used in this issue (a set of outtakes was briefly issued by mistake in 1989).

As to the Columbia recordings, Sony is using the same remasterings that were used for the big blue boxed set in 1993. (The sole exception is the 1962 Kinderszenen, which was remastered in 2003.) In the 1969 Kreisleriana, the (wrong) takes that were issued on the 1993 boxed set and every CD since are used again here. So, hang on to your LPs and the MK42409 CDs if you still have them.

As with all the Original Jacket issues, the cover art from the original LPs (or, in a few cases, CDs) is used. The original programming is also strictly being adhered to, which has not always been the case with this series. The advantage is that Horowitz's programming concepts are respected (and Horowitz was a master at building a contrasted and interesting program). The disadvantage is that the playing time for most of these CDs is short. However, at budget price, I'm not complaining. Some trivia: in the early LP era, RCA issued both 10" and 12" LPs, depending on the playing time of the program. For this set, only the 12" LPs are used, with one exception: the Brahms Violin Sonata with Millstein, which was originally issued as a 10" record and only appeared on a 12" LP decades after the fact. Also, none of the 45RPM issues are being used (RCA had issued 45s as a transition between 78RPMs and LPs).

One CD includes assorted RCA recordings that were never issued on LP. This includes both the 1928 and the 1957 expanded version of Horowitz's Carmen Fantasy. The Chopin Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4 from 1975 that was issued on the Japanese version only of Horowitz Rediscovered is likewise included.

Now, some information on the two "new" recitals: both the 1951 and 1967 recitals show Horowitz in excellent form and are valuable additions to his discography - though there is no new repertoire in either recital. The sound for the 1951 recital is mixed, because two different sources are being used: RCA's tapes and 33 1/3 transcription discs that were made for Horowitz's review. Both the taped and disc items sound cleaner than those in the Private Collection recordings. Mozart's K. 333 Sonata is a radically different (and more musicologically "correct") interpretation than the pianist's 1987 performances - yet I find the later recordings more pleasurable to listen to. Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata is thundering and compelling, similar in conception to Horowitz's 1945 studio recording, but with the added adrenaline he invariably put into his live performances. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 illustrates one of Horowitz's unique attributes: he could play "cool" and "hot" at the same time. The ending to this piece defines the word climactic.

The 1967 recital from Brooklyn College is in spectacular sound - indeed it sounds more like the Horowitz I heard live than many of his digital recordings. Horowitz plays the music (including Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 101, five Scarlatti Sonatas, Chopin and Rachmaninoff) in much the same manner as his existing Columbia recordings. Two exceptions are Chopin's Barcarolle, which is played lovingly and in contrast to his other rather tempestuous recordings, and Horowitz's own Carmen Variations, which has a different coda. Both the 1951 and 1967 recordings are unedited, so this is the real Horowitz without any interference: imperfect and compelling.

Where this set falls short is documentation. While the liner notes are reproduced on the back of the mini-LP jacket, not all the LPs have notes. The 200 page booklet includes track listings, recording dates (some of which are not accurate), another photo of each LP cover, a perceptive essay on Horowitz by Jon Samuels, and a chronology of his life. The chronology contains errors, and there is a humorous misspelling on one of the LP jackets. (I detect the work of interns.) It's not realistic these days to expect that Sony/BMG can give Horowitz the red carpet treatment that Arthur Rubinstein was accorded in 1999 (although Horowitz certainly deserves it), but is it too much to ask for adequate and accurate documentation? The above complaints demote this set from five stars to four.

One further note: The Horowitz material issued in 2009, including the 1986 Berlin Concert and the two Private Collection recitals (an additional CD is planned for 2010) are not included in this set. 2009 is the twentieth anniversary of Horowitz's death. It's nice to know he hasn't been forgotten.


David Saldanha said...


Thanks for a terrific and very informative review and for all you do on Horowitz.

I was wondering if you ever raised the issue of the wrong takes of Kreisleriana with Sony and if you every got a reply.

The 2014 re-issue of this set still uses the wrong takes.

Thanks to your review I got hold of a copy of MK42409 while waiting for this set to be re-issued and I have put it into the reproduction of the original record sleeve in the complete set.

Hank Drake said...

Thanks for reaching out to me, David. I tried to contact Sony several times about the incorrect takes, including in 1993 when they first appeared in a boxed set. I never got a response. I later spoke with someone closely involved with the complete Original Jacket issue, and that person brought the issue up with Sony just as it was being released. That person then spoke to Tom Frost, Horowitz's producer during the Columbia years and later when he was at DG, asking for the recording logs. Frost informed him the logs no longer existed and that they put the 1993 issue together "by ear". My friend has not been involved in any of the post-2009 Horowitz issues, so I have no way of knowing whether the issue has been corrected.

David Saldanha said...


Thank you for your very quick response.

Happy New Year to you.

I can confirm that, having made use of your YouTube video on this subject, the re-issue of this set still uses the wrong take of Kreisleriana.