Beethoven is not a
composer that I’d readily associate
with Vladimir Horowitz. Nonetheless
it came as a surprise to read in Jonathan
Summers’ useful booklet note just how
little Beethoven he did perform. He
learned the ‘Emperor’ at the specific
request of Toscanini for a performance
in 1933 but even then he didn’t play
the work often in public thereafter.
This recording from 1951 is, therefore,
an interesting document.
When I first listened
to this performance I wrote the following
in my listening notes: "Opening
flourishes are more display than rhetoric
– should combine the two?" In fact,
this was to prove a portent of much
of what was to follow. Reiner conducts
a brisk, no-nonsense opening ritornello.
When the soloist re-enters Horowitz
displays much brilliant finger work
but, frankly, that’s about all. I could
detect little relaxation and moments
of repose were almost non-existent.
In summary this traversal of what should
be an imposing first movement is much
too hard-driven for my taste.
Matters improve somewhat
in the slow movement where Horowitz
makes an impressively poetic first entry
after Reiner has set the scene well.
For much of the time in this movement
Horowitz plays with a degree of feeling
that was absent in the preceding movement
though there remains an underlying directness
to his approach. The quiet piano chords
in the magical transition to the finale
are beautifully weighted and the third
movement itself begins with a lithe,
energetic spring. However, as the finale
proceeds the pretty relentless pace
becomes wearing and, as in the first
movement, the music is driven much too
hard for its own good.
In summary this is
a febrile performance, which I didn’t
enjoy very much. I’d hesitate to say
that such a distinguished artist just
skates over the surface but I certainly
have heard many more probing accounts
of this profound concerto.
With the Rachmaninov
Horowitz is on more familiar ground.
This concerto was a staple of his repertoire
throughout his career and the present
recording was the second of three that
he made. The others were made in 1930
for HMV with Albert Coates (Naxos 8.110696)
and in 1978 for RCA with Eugene Ormandy.
Coincidentally, that latter version,
in its LP incarnation, was the very
first recording of the work that I bought.
Rachmaninov 3 seems
to suit him better than did the Beethoven.
Once again brilliant dexterity is present
in abundance. However, this time Horowitz
does seem to recognise the passages
where a bit more ‘give’ is appropriate
and he’s rather more willing to relax
in those pages. That said, the playing
still comes across as highly-strung.
There is some phenomenal playing in
The music of the second
movement is characterised by a vein
of melancholy and Horowitz conveys this
quite well, though I’ve heard other
pianists impart more feeling. He and
Reiner build the movement to a powerful
central climax and there’s some astonishingly
deft finger work in the following scherzando
episode. Horowitz attacks the finale
with bravura but in this movement I
did wonder if the performance wasn’t
just too much "edge of the seat".
Here, as elsewhere throughout both performances,
the orchestra tends very much to take
second place as the soloist pounds out
the virtuoso passages. In the last analysis
this is not a performance of the concerto
to which I warm greatly.
Mark Obert-Thorn has
transferred these performances from
American LPs. He seems to me to have
done a good job. However, the original
engineering placed the piano very forwardly
and there’s nothing that Mr. Obert-Thorn
would have been able to do about that.
Neither, I imagine, was it possible
to correct the rather harsh, clangy
tone of the piano, especially in louder
passages. In places the piano just sounds
This is a CD that will
be of interest to admirers of Horowitz.
However, even specialist Horowitz collectors
will probably be able to think of many
performances of both concertos by other
pianists that are more searching and
more rewarding than these.
See also reviews by
Michael Cookson and Jonathan