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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Horszowski
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Horszowski
WORKS: Piano works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin
PERFORMER: Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano)


To many seasoned observers, Mieczys√aw Horszowski was playing more beautifully than ever in his nineties. These two recordings showcase live recitals given at Aldeburgh in 1984 and 1987 (when he was nigh on 92 and 95 years old respectively), and his last concert in England, at Wigmore Hall, just weeks before his 99th birthday. Listening to both discs, it is hard to ignore that you’re hearing a man well into his tenth decade. It’s astonishing that he was still able to play at this level. Indeed, if we make allowances for physical fallibility it’s because he offers so much beyond mere dexterity. Whether in Mozart, Chopin or Villa-Lobos his sound is exceptional – sonorous, mellifluous and effortlessly sung. The Aldeburgh concerts are remarkable for their repertoire. As Bryce Morrison says in his appreciative note for the BBC Legends disc, ‘Chopin’s Third Sonata is a startling choice for so venerable a pianist’, although his ‘nobility shines through his instability’. This gives a good flavour of the performance, which must have been quite an experience in concert but does not perhaps bear repeated listening on disc. The sense of physical struggle, of overcoming the odds, is never far away. Mozart’s F major Sonata K332 is at times ravishing, at others shaky, while the two Chopin Mazurkas are deeply soulful. Perhaps the highlight of this disc, though, is the Prelude by Horszowski’s friend Pablo Casals. The repertoire in his 1991 Wigmore Hall recital is less wide-ranging but more suited to the pianist’s inevitable physical limitations. Mozart’s B flat Sonata K570 glows rather than sparkles; and if Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata starts uncertainly, it becomes mesmerising in the central Adagio and finale. The Chopin is at times inaccurate but always communicative, and in Schumann’s Träumerei – the perfect encore – Horszowski demonstrates why he was so revered by Murray Perahia and András Schiff. Sound is good on both discs, but the Wigmore Hall recital especially offers an ideal showcase for Horszowksi’s rich sonority. Tim Parry