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Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989): The First Recordings
Sergei RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30 Ñ *
Claude DEBUSSY Serenade for the Doll (from Children's Corner Suite) Î
Domenico SCARLATTI Capriccio in E major, L375 Î
Georges BIZET-Horowitz Variations on Themes from Carmen Î
Enro Von DOHNÁNYI Capriccio (Concert Etude in F minor, Op.28, No.6) Î
Franz SCHUBERT-Liszt Liebesbotschaft (from Schwanengesang), S560 Ï
Franz LISZT-Busoni Paganini Etude No.2 in E flat major ('Octave') Ð
Franz LISZT Valse oubliée No.1, S215 Ð; Paganini Etude No.5 in E major ('La Chasse') (1838 version) Ð
Vladimir HOROWITZ Danse excentrique Ð
Frederic CHOPIN Etude in F major, Op.10, No.8 Ð; Mazurka No.21 in C sharp minor, Op.30, No.4 Î
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates*
Recorded March/April/December 1928, Victor Studio No.1,
Camden, New Jersey Î
Recorded January 1929, Victor Studios, New York Ï; February/March1930, Liederkranz Hall, New York; December 1930, Kingsway Hall, London Ñ
NAXOS 8.110696 [65:56]

Sony and RCA have such a large inventory of Horowitz recordings that it could be wondered if the man was on Earth prior to the 1940s. Other recording companies have fortunately released a host of earlier Horowitz performances, and this new Naxos Historical disc gives us his first recorded interpretations from the late 1920s up to 1930.

The main offering on the disc is Horowitz's first of three commercial recordings of Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto. An added bonus is that three of the other eleven pieces receive their first exposure on record: the Liszt-Paganini Etude No.5, the Schubert-Liszt "Liebesbotschaft", and Chopin's Etude in F major.

Horowitz's second commercial recording of Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto conducted by Fritz Reiner on RCA is generally considered his best, and I won't argue with that assessment. There is a palpable sense of excitement, and Horowitz is a whirlwind; another plus is the vivid soundstage that allows us to hear the great pianist in his entire splendor.

The sound for the 1930 Horowitz performance is the opposite of vivid, as it is constricted and extremely dry. Horowitz's playing never rings out, and he often sounds as if he's performing beneath the orchestra. However, there are two crucial features that the sound can't destroy. One is the sizzle of the tension created by both Horowitz and Coates that is a constant throughout the work. The other feature is the fiery excitement that Horowitz can generate even with the disadvantages of 1930 sound technology. The performance is a compelling one, but Horowitz's 1951 recording with Reiner has to take first prize with its more vivid soundstage.

The solo piano works are enjoyable, but the program tends to emphasize technical virtuosity more than emotional depth. The "Carmen Variations" and the Dohnányi Capriccio are in the 'virtuosity' category where the constricted sound definitely does damage to the presentation.

The pieces having emotional weight such as Chopin's Mazurka in C sharp minor and the Etude in F major are played splendidly by Horowitz. I also love the rhythmic energy he imparts to the Liszt-Busoni "Octave" Etude and the poignancy of the Schubert-Liszt "Liebesbotschaft".

Overall, this Naxos Historical recording is a must for Horowitz fans and anyone interested in the genesis of his fame. Also, Rachmaninov enthusiasts will find the 1930 performance of the 3rd Piano Concerto a treasurable and necessary acquisition. Only those readers allergic to the sound of historical recordings are advised to take a pass on the disc.

Don Satz

see also review by Tony Haywood

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