One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider


paid for


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas

FOGHORN Classics

Mozart Brahms
Clarinet Quintets

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


alternatively AmazonUK

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata no.2 in b flat minor op.35 [21:19]
Polonaise in A op.40/1 [04:50]
Polonaise in f sharp minor op.44 [10:15]
Polonaise in A flat op.53 [06:22]
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat op.61 [13:19]
Fantaisie-Impromptu in c sharp minor op.66 [04:30]
Scherzo no.1 in b minor op.20 [08:24]
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
rec. Columbia 30th Street Studios, NY: 18, 24 April, 9, 14 May 1962, (op. 35), 14 November 1963 (op. 20) 4 May 1971, (op. 61); Carnegie Hall: 17 April 1966 (op. 66) 2 January, 1 February 1968 (op. 53) 6 July 1972, (op. 44)
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 78769 2 [68:59]

Seasoned pianophiles with a special interest in Horowitz may be raising their eyebrows at the recording information above, which is exactly as it appears in the booklet. The only recording here which is self-evidently live – there’s a cough and a barrage of applause breaks in on the closing chord – is that of op.61, which is claimed as a studio recording. Or were the Columbia 30th Street Studios used as a recital venue? Nothing to stop CBS from hiring the Carnegie Hall to use as a studio, I suppose, either. Except that an LP called “Horowitz Live at the Carnegie Hall” (CBS M 45829) had the First Ballade and a number of non-Chopin items from 1st February 1968 and there was certainly an audience for those. Op. 61 and what seems to be the same op.53 – but the sound is radically different here – appeared on CBS 75969 (LP), published in 1971 but with no specific information. Of the unidentified op.40/1 I can only say that the same performance appeared on CBS 76307 (LP), pub. 1974 and 1979 but again with no further information.
Well never mind, Horowitz is always Horowitz.
I am not sure that mixing live and studio Horowitz is a good idea, though. As op.61 shows, with an audience hanging onto every note, he could be very capricious, twisting the music this way and that. Since he was a fantastic communicator it was surely unforgettable to those who were there. I’m sure I’d have joined in the roars of applause that greet it if I’d been in the audience. Heard on record with a score in front of me I found myself alternately convinced and puzzled. Ultimately this longish piece is made to seem rambling and I prefer a more symphonic approach. Some time ago I reviewed a later performance on BMG (74321 68008 2) and felt that by 1982 Horowitz was falling into self-parody. Listening to the two side by side I now feel they’re much of a muchness. I must say it’s interesting to notice what remained constant and what was evidently invented for that particular occasion.
I think, though, that Horowitz knew a studio performance had to be different. In the Second Sonata he is still intensely personal in his voicings and dynamics, but in a more responsible sort of way. The structure of the work is conveyed as well as the details. His range of tone and his fine dynamic shadings are astonishing. The central sections of the middle movements, which can both seem interminable strolls around the mulberry bush in the wrong hands, become kaleidoscopic displays of variegated colours. The scherzo makes its point, not by the pace, which is fairly moderate for Horowitz, but by the dialogue between the voices. In the finale the winds blow over the grave with chilling clarity. There are too many incredible performances of this work – such as Michelangeli’s for Italian television, now on DVD and reviewed by me here – to claim any single one as the greatest ever. This one is awesomely great, nonetheless.
Another particularly great performance is that of the op.44 Polonaise, where the countless details illuminated by Horowitz do not prevent him from revealing its grand structure as well. The op.53 Polonaise, on the other hand, does sometimes seem fussy in its detailing. The version from his famous “Return to Moscow” recital, in spite of its fallibility – on account of which it was issued only on video/DVD, not CD – has a more colossal grandeur to it. The op.40/1 Polonaise and the Fantaisie-Impromptu are surprisingly straightforward, just good unmannered playing. You could probably Hattify these two performances and not get discovered immediately.
Arguably, if a spot of Hattification were applied to the Scherzo to bring the outer sections down to a reasonable tempo, our nerves would be the better for it. This performance was famously dismissed by Sviatoslav Richter as “awful”. One is reminded of certain performances by Horowitz’s father-in-law Toscanini where, though the notes are all played, the human ear just can’t register them as they fly by and the speed becomes self-defeating. Angry banging accents dominate while the 8th-notes buzz around them like a horde of angry hornets. But I hope Richter duly acknowledged the great beauty of the central section, calm and beautifully voiced.
So as I said, Horowitz is always Horowitz. If you have to limit yourself to one disc of Horowitz playing Chopin, get this one rather than the BMG I mentioned, where the alternation of 1950s recordings with very late ones makes an unsatisfying sequence. Better still, get all the Horowitz you can. The skimpy notes are taken from a previous 1987 issue. Are Sony that hard up?
Christopher Howell


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat



Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3


Return to Review 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.