Thursday, January 7, 2010

My latest review

At Carnegie Hall: Private Collection - Haydn & Beethoven
Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: Private Collection - Haydn & Beethoven

By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews

Horowitz the Classicist

For this installment of recordings from Vladimir Horowitz's Private Collection, the fifth in the series that started in the 1990s, Sony/BMG is focusing on repertoire from the Classical era. Again, the recordings are taken from Carnegie Hall recitals the pianist had recorded at his own expense.

Horowitz first recorded Haydn's Sonata in E-flat (No. 52 or 62 depending on which listing you use) in 1932, the first recording of this work ever made. The performance remains a benchmark recording of this piece, played with feline grace and in perfect Classical style, and demonstrated Horowitz as a great Haydn interpreter - which was not always the case with his Mozart. In a second recording, from a 1951 Carnegie Hall concert, the Sonata is given a more overtly virtuoso treatment and is played on a larger dynamic scale. Some details in the score, such as the rests in the final movement, which were scrupulously observed in 1932, are ignored in 1951. This performance, from 1948, is midway between the two in terms of interpretation. Certain details of the opening Allegro, such as the handling of turns, are unique to this performance. The lovely Adagio is played at a flowing tempo (more of an Andante) but it works here. There are many hair raising moments in the final Presto, which features incredibly balanced rapid passagework played without pedal. The third movement rests are observed the first time the theme is played, but ignored again in the final repetition.

The performance of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata is from 1945. The first movement is played in a straightforward manner, with none of the fussiness that mars his two studio recordings of this work, but the repeat in this movement is omitted here. The central Adagio, which serves as an introduction to the third movement, is offered with an unforced lyricism. The third played at a very fast tempo, quite different from either of his more spacious studio recordings. Horowitz carefully observes Beethoven's dynamic markings and there is a great deal of rhythmic verve throughout the movement. As was his usual practice, Horowitz has replaced Beethoven's octave glissandi with presto and staccato octaves (Rubinstein also did this), so this performance is not strictly by the book.

There is a remarkable lack of atmosphere in the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, from a 1947 concert. The coloring for which Horowitz was justly famous is sadly missing here, as is the poetry of his 1956 recording of the work. The allegretto goes at a jaunty clip, which is not what was intended and differs markedly from the pianist's three studio recordings. As in his 1946 and 1972 studio recordings, Horowitz ignores the sforandi at the top of ascending phrases in the third movement - which robs the finale of much of its turbulence. He observed them in his 1956 recording, which remains the high mark for Horowitz's performances of this work. While one doesn't want to appear ungrateful for the effort undertaken to issue this historical performance, I must question the wisdom of this Moonlight's release, as it does nothing to broaden our knowledge of Beethoven or Horowitz.

Jon Samuels has done his usual fine job of restoring these recordings from Horowitz's own copies - the only ones known to exist. Thankfully, there is no over filtering, and while there is a bit of surface noise at points, the disc remains eminently listenable.

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