At the time of this performance, the legendary
Mieczyslaw Horszowski was a staggering 98 years old. Rare it is
indeed that an artist’s career lasts his entire life. Rarer still
does such a life last so long. Horszowski played a rather demanding
recital on his 100th birthday, and lived to see a couple
more anniversaries. And although the critics give many artists
critical liberties as they enter their twilight years, there was
no need to go easy on this one. His playing was as elegant and
expressive at 98 as it was at 58. What an astounding recital this
is, and we must be nothing but grateful to Misha Donat for preserving
it for us, and for the BBC making it available to a worldwide
Opening with Bach’s sixth French Suite, we are
treated to playing so fine it is almost therapeutic. Every contrapuntal
line is played like an aria performed by the finest singer. Nothing
is ever rushed for display à la Glenn Gould. Rather, the
music unfolds before us as if it was specified in the book of
nature that it had to be exactly thus. That is certainly not to
say that Maestro Horszowski is without the ability to impress;
he simply chooses to let this elegant music speak for itself.
Beethoven’s early sonata is played with both
classical restraint and with muscle where appropriate. His witty,
understated manner with the giant of Bonn is a delight. Although
his Beethoven is masterful, it is perhaps in Chopin that Horszowski
shines brightest. The oft-hackneyed E-flat nocturne is brought
to life like a fine actor would read a sonnet. Romantic? Yes.
Syrupy and overly sentimental? No. The monstrous first Scherzo
is a wonder to behold. The outlay of strength that is evidenced
in this performance is breathtaking, and must have been exhausting
for a man nearly a century old.
Schumann’s very early Papillons are perfect
little crystal miniatures, and Mr. Horszowski takes each delightful
figurine off the shelf to show it off for us, and then puts them
back on display in their exact places.
In short, this recital is a feast of wonders,
and no lover of great music-making, regardless of his taste for
piano music, will want to miss this. Simply to hear a man of this
kind of depth of experience who is still at the height of his
powers so late in life is an experience that even a casual listener
will find interesting if not completely remarkable.
Sound quality is excellent; program notes are
thorough and interesting. Donat’s tribute to the great master
is touching and poignant. A must have. Do not miss it.