VLADIMIR HOROWITZ AT CARNEGIE HALL–THE PRIVATE COLLECTION

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 4

From the mid 1940s through the early 1950s Vladimir Horowitz arranged to have his Carnegie Hall recitals recorded in order for him to study and evaluate the performances. Horowitz eventually donated these recordings to Yale University in 1988, the year before he died. Two CD releases followed, all featuring repertoire new to the pianist’s discography. By contrast, the Mussorgsky and Liszt items published here for the first time represent familiar Horowitzian fare. Critical consensus favors Horowitz’s fiery, high-voltage live 1951 Pictures at an Exhibition over the relatively contained though sonically fuller-bodied 1947 studio version. Essentially this 1948 performance mirrors 1951’s energy and daring, but retains 1947’s less garish rubatos and simpler phrasing. That said, it’s important to mention Horowitz’s unrepentant textual emendations by way of chordal fills, octave transpositions, tweaking of harmonies, deleted bars, plus out-and out rewrites.

The idea of a 1949 Horowitz Liszt Sonata played at full capacity at the height of his concert career filled me with anticipation. In reality, the performance is riveting but problematic. Certainly Horowitz’s range of expression, palette of colors, and arsenal of articulations had increased one thousand-fold since his youthful 1932 shellac traversal. The fughetta has tremendous rhythmic spring and linear differentiation, the bravura octaves don’t rush in the process of being gauged for maximum dynamic impact, while even the softest, most exposed lyrical moments truly float and sustain; Horowitz knew how to play Carnegie Hall’s acoustics almost as well as the piano itself. Yet the pianist’s rhapsodic vantage point often diffuses the clear contrasts that Liszt’s specific tempo modifications intend. In addition, Horowitz cuts 22 bars beginning at the 3/2 measure marked Pesante (page 16 of the Kalmus edition score), resulting in an awkward harmonic transition. Still, this is Horowitz in his prime, live, unedited, and unlike anyone else.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: VLADIMIR HOROWITZ AT CARNEGIE HALL--THE PRIVATE COLLECTION
Reference Recording: Mussorgsky: Richter (Philips), Liszt: Arrau (Philips), Argerich (DG), Richter (Philips)

MODESTE MUSSORGSKY - Pictures at an Exhibition
FRANZ LISZT - Piano Sonata in B minor

  • Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
  • RCA - 49925 2
  • CD

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