Schumann, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Chopin, Debussy & Moszkowski

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COMPOSERS: Chopin,Debussy & Moszkowski,Liszt,Rachmaninov,Schumann
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Vladimir Horowitz Rediscovered
WORKS: Works by Schumann, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Chopin, Debussy & Moszkowski
PERFORMER: Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 50754 2 ADD
Following another self-imposed hiatus, Horowitz had returned to giving concerts in 1974 but, by that time, elements of the septuagenarian’s technique were starting to fray. While an almost hallucinatory fantasy and poetry marked out his best performances from this period, Horowitz’s determination to do battle with the effects of time – straining to prove his pianistic and musical virility – could result in playing blighted by choppy delivery, lurid inflections and details spotlighted to the extent that cohesion crumbled. All of these qualities – the overall effect often harried and belligerently neurotic – are heard during this 1975 Carnegie Hall recital, which is here issued complete and without edits. Granted, the manic projection and sheer force of will might have made attending this concert an engrossing experience, but hearing the results via a recording made too close to Horowitz’s over-bright piano can be more stressful than illuminating.

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Comparing Schumann’s Blumenstück with the pianist’s 1966 recording (Sony) reveals the earlier reading to flow more seamlessly, the present version – some gorgeous moments notwithstanding – suffused with a gilded nostalgia that can verge on mawkishness. Schumann’s F minor Sonata emerges as even more theatrically overblown and disjunct than the composite live recording from 1976 (RCA). The inability to produce a truly resonant bass forte afflicts much of the work, as it does also the two Rachmaninov Études-tableaux, which register as clattery and hectic. Much of the same composer’s Op. 32/5 Prelude is intimate and affecting, though, and Chopin’s A minor Waltz plaintive if self-regarding. Liszt’s first Valse oubliée and Au bord d’une source feature delicate outer sections astride brittle, unkempt central climaxes. Strain also blights much of Chopin’s First Scherzo, the zigzag tracery more angrily laboured than fervent.

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As the CD cover declares, ‘No part of this recital has ever been issued before, in any format’. Yet none of these items is new to the Horowitz discography, which already contains over 50 issued recordings of these dozen works. While this chaotically uneven concert will be of interest to aficionados, a far more worthy purpose would be served by releasing recordings from the Yale archive of Horowitz’s 1945-50 Carnegie Hall recitals. Michael Glover