Classical Music Guide - Monday, July 21, 2014 - Written by Donald Isler

The Recorded Legacy of Vladimir Horowitz

A talk on this subject with Jon Samuels and Joseph Patrych at City College was reviewed for the Classical Music Guide ( by me in the “Classical Chatterbox” section on October 18th of last year. Sunday’s presentation also included David Dubal, as well as performances by three very fine young pianists, because the event at which they were to perform was rescheduled, or canceled. Although it did seem a bit strange to include them here, as they weren’t even born when Horowitz died, and only one of them performed a work in Horowitz’s repertoire, it was good to hear some live performances, and to be reminded again of the talent that is attracted to the Festival. To begin with them:

Salome Jordania gave a shimmering, pulsing, muscular interpretation of Chasse Neige, the twelfth of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes.

The Chromatic Etude of Debussy purred along ominously in the hands of Ting-I Lee.

Reed Tetzloff gave a fine, intense version of Scriabin’s Vers La Flamme, a work Horowitz played, though, according to Mr Dubal, he was “afraid” of it.

The bulk of the program dealt with talk about Horowitz and his recordings, very familiar to all three of the gentlemen discussing this. Mr. Dubal, of course, knew him very well personally, and visited him every week for over three years. Every time but once, during all those visits, Horowitz played for him. Mr. Samuels, a noted recording engineer and producer, did the monumental job of producing the new huge, SONY box set of Horowitz At Carnegie Hall Recitals (described at greater length in my previous article on the subject). Mr. Patrych is a well-known recording engineer and producer. And like the other two, extremely knowledgeable about historic recordings.

A long list of Horowitz performances at Carnegie Hall made between 1948 and 1966 was provided in the program, but there was only time, amidst the free-wheeling conversation, to hear a fraction of them.

Among other things, we heard that many composers and transcriptions were never again played by Horowitz at Carnegie Hall after his 1953-65 retirement from the stage, and that he is only known to have played the Stars and Stripes transcription 13 times ANYWHERE. Another fact, which I recall from the City College lecture, which gives an idea of what we are missing, is that Horowitz performed the Prokofiev Eighth Sonata at one of his several 1945 concerts at Carnegie Hall, of which no tape seems to exist. And he never recorded it.

David Dubal quoted some of the many pianists whom he interviewed for his book, “Remembering Horowitz,” and he said that Horowitz “cared about the performer at the center of it all,” as opposed to the idea that the performer is only the humble messenger of the score.

It was explained that Mr. Samuels “unedited” some of these performances, meaning that where several performances of the same work were spliced together, he restored unedited, and often thrilling if imperfect performances.

Very impressive, in showing how an old recording can be restored, was a demonstration of how Mr. Samuels dramatically improved the sound of Horowitz playing the Liszt Sonetto del Petrarca, No. 104. In explaining how he was able to do this he said that he had listened enough to the playing of Horowitz to have a sense of what the pianist was trying to do even when the original recording didn’t have the right sound, such as to add more bass when the bass was clearly weak (by Horowitzian standards).

The first two pieces we heard were the last two movements of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, and included what some of Horowitz’s detractors called the “graffiti” (lots of extra notes) which he added at the end. One was instantly reminded of the amazing energy, intensity and power for which the pianist was known.

A movement of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, which he never recorded otherwise, was absolutely delicious, and charming.

The 1966 version of Schumann’s Blumenstück was quite different from the 1975 version which was played at the City College lecture, yet equally “free-range” tempo-wise, and with beautiful sound, expressive, and emotionally surprisingly deep. In Horowitz’s hands, said Jon Samuels, this relatively small-scale piece is “a masterpiece.”

Balakirev’s Islamey, in Horowitz’s transcription (including what sounded like his trademark interlocking octaves near the end) was exotic, and presented in all its wildness and complexity.

The one piece which was also played at the earlier City College lecture was the Chopin B Minor Mazurka, a wonder in its huge scope of dynamics and emotion, which impressed me as much as last time.

And yet:

The performance that blew me away more than any other on this occasion, and which Jon Samuels said justified this enormous project on its own, was Horowitz’s playing of Chopin's Grand Polonaise, Op. 22, from a 1950 recital. It had unbelievable energy, charm and imagination, remarkable spaciousness during cadenza-like passages, and yet other runs capable of producing whiplash. The playing of a “panther,” as David Dubal, described him.

Mr. Dubal also said that Horowitz’s sound lives on in his dreams.

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