Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Horowitz: HMV Recordings 1932-34
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonatas: b minor L.33/Kk.87 (4.6.1935), G major L.487/Kk.125 (2.6.1935)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sonata in E flat major Hob.XVI/52 (11.11.1932)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Arabesque in C major op.18 (6.5.1934), Traumes Wirren op.12/7 (15.11.1933)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Mazurkas: f minor op.7/3 [not e minor op.41/2 as stated] (15.11.1933; the given date 29.5.1933 refers to the recording of op.41/2 not included here), c sharp minor op.50/3 (2.6.1935), Etudes op.10: 4 in c sharp minor, 5 in G flat major (2.6.1935)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Etude XI: Pour les arpèges composés (6.5.1934)
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Pastourelle (LíEventail de Jeanne no.8), Toccata (3 Pièces no.2) (11.11.1932)
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) arr. Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

The Flight of the Bumble-Bee (from Tsar Saltan) (11.11.1932)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Danse Russe (from Petrushka) (11.11.1932)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Sonata in b minor (12.11.1932)
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
All recorded in EMI Abbey Road Studios no.3, dates as above
CD transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110606 [77:31]

It is an unaccustomedly gentle Horowitz who speaks to us in the first of the Scarlatti sonatas, the poetical bell-like tones of his piano far from anything Scarlatti would have known but a wonderful re-creation in its own right. The nervous vitality of the G major work is less unexpected but not the less marvellous for that.

Though Horowitzís personality is stamped on every bar of these performances, he does not obtain this result by waywardness. Indeed, compared to most pianists of his day, and many of ours, he is remarkably faithful to the written text. There is little that an academic could take exception to in the Haydn sonata, yet how he makes it speak! There were few takers for Haydnís piano music in the 1930s, and Horowitz is as appreciative of his rococo grace as he is of his extrovert fantasy, of his humour and of his sheer bigness. He makes sure we know this music is important, and it remains one of the few truly great performances of a Haydn sonata on disc.

He distils an ineffable poetry from the Schumann Arabesque and attains a clarity in Traumes Wirren that most of us would despair of reaching at half the tempo. It is very, very fast, but you donít feel (or I didnít) that he is doing it to show off Ė he can still find time to make the music speak.

The Chopin mazurkas are very fine, belonging out in the fields as Rubinsteinís sat firmly in the salon. But beware: they are extremely fast, as are, more reasonably, the two studies. The c sharp minor seems a slightly dry technical display but the poetry is back for the "Black Key Study". Next we have a reminder that Horowitz had an eye open to composers of his own day if they wrote colourfully and pianistically. It is normal to consider the Debussy studies as slightly dry products of his later years, less approachable than the Estampes, Images and Préludes. Horowitz finds a translucent poetry in no.11 that is quite beyond compare. He also finds the poetry in Poulencís neo-classicism.

I have heard several versions of Rachmaninovís Rimsky transcription in which the bumble-bee has seemed a pretty bad-tempered old hornet. Here it has the grace of a butterfly; maybe neither Rachmaninov or Rimsky-Korsakov intended this, but its marvellous all the same. The Stravinsky is sometimes a little too tumultuous for proper clarity, and we should remember that Horowitz withdrew this record Ė only a few copies were made. We should also remember that the Bumble-Bee and the Stravinsky share a 78 side and so were played one after the other without a break Ė and the Haydn and Poulenc were recorded on the same day!

The day after, Horowitz turned to the Liszt. We are now accustomed to the idea that every pianist with a bit of technique and a liking for romantic music wants to have a go at the B minor sonata, but Horowitz was almost a prophet preaching in the wilderness in 1932. As Jonathan Summersís notes tell us, most critics back then were too busy savaging the music even to notice the performance. Today we can recognise that Horowitzís quite fantastic technical command is totally at the service of the music whose grandeur and poetry is uniquely held in balance. An indispensable performance.

Mark Obert-Thornís transfers make no attempt to find a frequency range in these old recordings that they just havenít got. The result is, within its limitations, pleasing to the ear and reveals for us a Horowitz who, for all his fantastic technical equipment, was always rounded of tone and deeply poetical in his response to the music. We are used to hearing Horowitz in later recordings that zoomed in on his phenomenal technical address. But this technical address was intended for the public at the back of a large hall, it was not intended to be listened to close up. For all their limitations, these early recordings may give a better idea of what audiences actually heard. We are reminded that the piano remains the hardest of instruments to record, and the pianists who sound best on disc tend to be those who sound puny in the concert hall.

There are other transfers of this material around, of course, including EMIís own, which bring together all the recordings he made for them between 1931 and 1951 on 3 CDs. Presumably Naxos will be issuing the remaining out-of-copyright material in due course. This remains some of the most astounding piano playing ever committed to disc and you should not be without it in one form or another.

Rather as orchestras during rehearsals sometimes play wrong notes on purpose to see if the conductor is competent enough to notice, Naxos have set a few traps for napping critics. An obvious one is that Vladimir Horowitz: HMV Recordings 1932-34 contains some from 1935. Another (duly picked up above) is that they have shown a "wrong" mazurka Ė with its accompanying "wrong" date Ė in the booklet and on the cover. I hope I havenít got egg on my face by failing to spot any more.

Christopher Howell

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.