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Great Pianists -Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) Historical Recordings 1932-1934
Francis POULENC (1899 - 1963)

Pastourelle (L'Eventail de Jeanne, No.8) (1926) [2.13]
Trois pièces pour piano: No.2, Toccata (1928) [1.51]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 - 1908)

The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Op 57: Flight of the Bumble-Bee (arr. Rachmaninov) [1.10]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1892 - 1971)

Petrushka: Danse Russe (1911) [2.15]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1759)

Sonata in b, L. 33/Kk 87 [4.22]
Sonata in G, L. 487/Kk 125 [2.08]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Etude XI: Pour les arpèges composes (1915) [3:34]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)

Arabesque in C major, Op. 18 (1838) [6:17]
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (1837): No.7, Traumes Wirren [2:22]
Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)

Sonata in B minor, S. 178 (1853) [26.29]
Fryderik CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)

Mazurka No.27 in E minor, Op. 41, No.2 [2.23]
Mazurka No.32 in C sharp minor, Op. 50, No.34: [1.13]
Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 10, No.4 (1832) [2.01]
Etude in G flat major, Op. 10, No.5 ('Black Key') (1832) [1.33]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)

Sonata in E flat major, Hob. XVI/52 (c1794) [14.41]
Vladimir Horowitz, piano
Notes in English
Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110606 [77.31]

To say that this is the greatest recording of the Liszt Sonata in b ever made is only a slight exaggeration. There are several other recordings that deserve to be at least considered as well, for instance Sir Clifford Curzon on Decca and Lazar Berman on Melodiya. What makes Horowitz such a great Liszt interpreter is not only his impeccable virtuoso technique, but that, like Liszt, he was something of a ham and enjoyed showing off, making the most difficult passages sound especially easy, making use of the grand gesture. His later recording of Lisztís arrangement of Mendelssohnís Wedding March is hilariously and brilliantly irreverent, showing this quality to perfection. Yet in a work like Funerailles he could be a harrowing tragedian.

The Rimsky-Korsakov comes across brilliantly, better to my taste than any of Rachmaninoffís own recordings. By the time recording technology matured, Rachmaninoff was so bored with playing his own bonbons that he could not put any life or grace into his sound.

As somewhat of a Scarlatti specialist, I have never cared for Horowitzís Scarlatti no matter what everybody else in the world says. I think he mocks it, plays with it like a cat with a mouse, has no real respect for the music at all, and I urge listeners to seek out George Malcolm or Fernando Valenti, especially for K87. But nobody is going to buy this disk just for the Scarlatti anyway, and most Horowitz fans will go on loving his Scarlatti and youíre welcome to it.

It is a pleasure to have in the repertoire this recording of a Haydn Sonata, even if the sound is distant and bass heavy, but this is the original recordistís fault, not that of Mr. Obert-Thorn. In contrast with the Scarlatti, Horowitz takes Haydn very seriously and plays it with that kaleidoscopic interplay of moods from humorous to sad, playful to grand, that was Haydnís trademark and remains the despair of less talented interpreters. Horowitz was one of the few pianists to play Haydn sonatas regularly, and we need more of them today.

Some composers have to write teaching pieces to get their music played at all, but Robert Schumann was fortunate in that anything he wrote would be immediately played in concert by the two greatest living pianists, his wife Clara and his friend and admirer Franz Liszt. Hence Schumannís work remains the virtuosoís domain and Horowitz has always been supreme interpreter of many of the grander works. These two pieces, exquisitely played, make a nice contrast of moods.

The 1926 collaborative ballet LíEventail de Jeanne, with one movement each by Auric, Delannoy, Ferroud, Ibert, Milhaud, Poulenc, Ravel, Roland-Manuel and Florent Schmitt challenged most of them to produce tiny masterpieces, simultaneously in both piano and orchestral versions. This Pastourelle by Poulenc is one his better efforts, played here with thoughtful intensity by Horowitz. Others play it off a little lighter and that works, too. Poulencís Toccata is another of the many works that only Horowitz can play credibly at all.

Iím going to get in trouble again, but I feel that Chopin is mostly third rate music (excepting of course the Third Sonata) and the only reason we hear so much of it is because it is so easy to play and makes such a great effect. Horowitz should be ashamed of himself for wasting his talent on such trifles, but everybody deserves to have a little fun now and then, and Chopin lovers want to hear everybody play it. But just between you and me, Guiomar Novaes does better with the Etudes and Tamas Vasary does better with the Mazurkas because neither player tries to pump them up into virtuoso vehicles. Both these other recordings are available at low cost.

The Stravinsky Petrushka excerpt is well played, but for this work better sound is essential, and other pianists, e.g. Gina Bachauer, do it as well as Horowitz. It actually must be easier to play than it sounds because everybody seems to be able to make it sound very good.

The Debussy is transcendently beautiful, making one wish Horowitz had specalized more in this composer than in Scarlatti; but over his career Horowitz only recorded a total of about half a dozen pieces by Debussy, including, of course, Clair de Lune. This etude is one he played frequently and nobody else comes close on this one.

In the past I have been critical of Mr. Obert-Thorn for leaving too much hiss in his restorations to take advantage of the common auditory illusion that allows the ear to select from the hiss the missing overtones and hence create a spurious sensation of presence, air and ambience when in fact the frequencies are just not there. However, here I have no such complaints. Hiss has been reduced to sensible levels and the sound is generally excellent, most especially for the Liszt work. Whatever qualifications I may have as a restoration engineer, I could never touch Mr. Obert-Thornís experience and ability to deal elegantly with truly difficult original material, as here.

Paul Shoemaker

See also review by Christopher Howell

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