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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for keyboard in D minor BWV1052 [24.33] +
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Six Moments Musicaux D780 [22.42]
Four Impromptus D935 [31.27]
Piano Sonata in B flat D960 [34.53]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor K491 [31.17] *
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano)
Musica Aeterna/Frederic Waldman+
Festival Orchestra (San Juan)/Alexander Schneider *
Recorded 1966-68
ARBITER 145 [78.51 + 66.15]
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Here is some more valuable live Horszowski material from a compact two-year period. The rewards are considerable though not invariably uniform and the recording quality, whilst uneven, is very listenable. Arbiter has shown a consistently enlightened attitude to his legacy, not least in their series of Mozart sonata recordings made during the same decade. An especially important feature of the performances enshrined in this disc is that they are, apparently, otherwise new to the pianist’s never-huge discography.

The Bach Concerto featured Horszowski with Frederic Waldman and his Musica Aeterna forces. The unexpected bounty from these performances can also be heard in Erica Morini concerto performances with Waldman – how fortunate it was that so many were privately recorded. There are some acetate clicks here but nothing too troubling. Waldman is a direct, rather emphatic conductor of Bach and his strings sound a touch thin here and there but the austerity of the slow movement is well conveyed and Horszowski never ceased being a Bach performer of imagination and insight, as any of us lucky enough to have heard him in concert will well remember.

He plays the Schubert Moments Musicaux with lyric grace (the A flat) and a rightness of sonority, not least the perky rhythmic brio of the F minor [No.3] and the powerfully communicative later F minor [No.5]. The concluding A flat has a serene nobility of utterance. It’s even more valuable to have his performance of the Four Impromptus, though here the sound can break up somewhat in fortes and the fourth of the set is unfortunately incomplete (the tape ran out). Nevertheless these are tonally impressive documents.

The B flat Sonata is subject to a slightly pallid recording quality, one that emphasises a certain clanginess in the piano spectrum, allied to which there is some persistent ambient noise and hum. Despite this the ear soon focuses on the music making and to his slow way with the opening but rather more to the sense of internal contrasts Horszowski explores, both expressively and metrically. The emotional temperature of the slow movement is a good one, neither too brittle nor aloof, nor too expansive and unbridled. There’s plenty of amplitude at climaxes and the finger slips here (and elsewhere) are of little account.

The programme is framed by the two concertos, the second of which is Mozart’s C minor K491. This receives a powerfully strong-minded performance, as strong on undercurrents as on the lyric impulses that inform it. This is particularly the case in the opening movement, which his long-term colleague Schneider directs with power. There is some noteworthy playing from the principal clarinet throughout and good passagework from the soloist who plays Denis Mathews’ first movement cadenza written for Myra Hess and vests the slow movement with considerable if restrained lyricism. The recording is apt to be a touch bass-boomy.

A fine survey of live Horszowski then, in otherwise commercially unrecorded performances. The programme is judiciously balanced between solo and concerto outings and the minor travails of the original tapings are negligible when set against so much fine music making. Pleasurable notes complete this recommendable two disc slim-line double set.

Jonathan Woolf



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