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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata No. 2 in B flat op. 35  "Funeral March" (1839) [23:03]
Barcarolle in F sharp major Op.60 [8:45]
Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52 (1842) [10:14]
Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52 (1842) [10:21] – withdrawn 1949 recording
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major Op. 61 [11:27]
Etude in E major Op.10 No.3 (publ. 1833) [4:05]
Scherzo No.1 in B minor Op.20 (1831-32) [8:35]
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
rec. Town Hall, New York 1949 (Ballade No.4 – withdrawn version), 1950 (Sonata), Carnegie Hall, 1951 (Polonaise fantaisie) and 1957 (Barcarolle), Hunter College, 1951 (Etude and Scherzo) and Manhattan Centre, 1952 (Ballade No.4)


Experience Classicsonline

Horowitz leads us a merry dance over the course of seventy-six and a half incendiary minutes of pianism. The recordings were made between 1949 and 1957 and there is a sizeable bonus in the presenting of the 1949 recording of the F minor Ballade, soon to be withdrawn. It was re-recorded in 1952. The transfers of all these items are really first class.

These are Horowitz’s first recorded thoughts on all these pieces. He re-recorded  them again – some in the 1960s, some in the 1980s. The biggest work, the Sonata, for example was re-recorded in 1962 when Horowitz took a radically different approach to the one he adopted in 1950. He was never happy with the earlier recording, especially – and rightly – about the first movement, which he always acknowledged was difficult for him to bind together. “My old recording was a little slow” he once said, “a little stagnant.” He characterised the Scherzo as “Lisztian, Byronic … like Bellini” and opined that the Funeral March was often played with “soft, flabby rhythm.”.

The earlier recording certainly was idiosyncratic. That first movement is distended to a remarkable degree, especially for Horowitz, and it makes objectively little structural sense. Further the Funeral March is subject to exaggeration of dynamics and texture and the finale rather nondescript, in terms of characterisation. It’s a curiously unsatisfying traversal, pretty much eclipsed by the more sensible approach to tempo relationships he adopted in 1962.

The Barcarolle is also typically Horowitzian and once again it fares poorly when judged against his much later thoughts. By that later time he’d stabilised important facets of interpretation; these first thoughts lack expressive depth. The Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major is driven through in 11:27 whereas in Carnegie Hall in 1966 he took 13:19. The B minor Scherzo is full of self-conscious bravado; intoxicating, to be sure, but tending to ride roughshod over the body of the music. The two Ballade performances really are exciting and there’s actually very little to choose between them; they both have an epic quality that compels the greatest interest, a torrid, sweeping, dynamic vision.

These uneven performances, often perplexing, sometimes simply unconvincing, are nevertheless a repository of much magnificent pianism. One feels that Horowitz perceived his structural responsibilities in Chopin more fully only with the onset of the 1960s. But with the first class transfers to tempt you, and that earlier Ballade, you might want to augment those later statements with these more cavalier earlier ones.

Jonathan Woolf




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