HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 62 in E-flat, Hob. VI:52. SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat, op. 90/3, D899. SCRIABIN: Vers la flamme, op. 72. Poème in F#, op. 32/1. Etude in f#, op. 42/4. Etude in d#, op. 8/12. KABALEVSKY: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F, op. 49. CHOPIN: Fantasie in f, op. 49. Nocturne in e, op. 72/1. Impromptu No. 1 A-flat, op. 29. Nocturne in F#, op. 15/2. Polonaise in A-flat, op. 53.
Vladimir Horowitz, Carnegie Hall, 2 February 1948.
Pristine Audio PAKM 071 TT: 79:52.
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BEETHOVEN : 32 Variations in c, WoO 80. SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat, op. 90/3, D899. MUSSORGSKY (arr. Horowitz): Pictures at an Exhibition. CHOPIN: Ballade No. 4 in f, op. 52. DEBUSSY: Children’s Corner Suite -- Sérénade à la poupée. Études, Livre 1 -- Pour les huit doigts. LISZT : Funérailles. RACHMANINOFF : Prelude in G, op. 32/5. Prelude in g, op. 23/5. SCARLATTI Sonata in A, K322/L483.
Vladimir Horowitz, Carnegie Hall, 2 April 1948.
Pristine Audio PAKM 072 TT: 79:27
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A master in his prime. During the Forties, four musicians became so dominant in their fields that their instruments became identified with them, much as Kleenex became the generic for paper tissue. Heifetz was The Violinist, Casals was The Cellist, Segovia was The Guitarist, and Horowitz was The Pianist. In many ways, this gave a skewed view not only of the musical scene, but of the nature of each player’s art. Horowitz in particular received praise as “the perfect pianist,” the virtuoso of fiendishly difficult music who “never played a wrong note,” as if this were his main virtue. Now, of course, younger pianists with just as much technique have come along, and yet Horowitz remains a presence. We can ask what sets him apart now, when we’re no longer blinded by the flash of his fingers?

First, we must note Horowitz’s comparatively small repertoire, a sliver of major composers’ works. I don’t believe he ever recorded more than half-a-dozen Beethoven sonatas. His Chopin, Brahms, and Debussy were similarly confined. He tended to play the same pieces over and over. However, when he did undertake “new” music -- Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7, Barber’s Sonata -- the results were often electrifying, and he did bring to light neglected composers like Scarlatti, Clementi, and Scriabin. As an interpreter, Horowitz did better in shorter works. He did not exhibit a mind for architecture, although he had a wonderful narrative sense. You probably would not have wanted to hear him in a work like Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31. As far as the monuments of the repertoire are concerned, he shone in the standard concerti.

These discs make clear Horowitz as a master of color and wit. The Haydn and Schubert (the latter the only duplicate on the programs) stand out. Horowitz doesn’t just pick a generic emotional wash but creates a line that subtly changes within a phrase. This makes the Haydn in particular more interesting by emphasizing its capricious turns of mood. Truth to tell, I prefer Haydn’s piano sonatas to Mozart’s, which seem stodgy in comparison. The Haydn ranges over wide expressive territory, and Horowitz keeps up. However, the Schubert, gorgeously lyrical, lacks the extreme contrasts of the Haydn. Here, Horowitz fashions an ever-shifting line, with exquisite crescendos and diminuendos (within single phrases and over long spans of several phrases) and varieties of touch. The result is poetic, rather than corny, and with a great nobility. This may count as my favorite track of the set.
Horowitz actually knew Scriabin, who encouraged him. Horowitz, in turn, became one of the composer’s early champions. Most of this was, after all, Difficult Modern Music back then, even though Scriabin’s youthful work had followed in the tradition of Chopin. Horowitz programmed both early and late works, as here -- from the stormy Chopinesque Étude in d#, through the very Debussian Poème in F#, to the wild and wooly poem Vers la flamme, the composer’s last completed work.

S.G.S. (June 2018)