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CD: St Laurent Studio

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [33:37]
Prelude in G major Op.23 No.5 [3:15]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Sonata in B minor S.178 (1853) [26:28]
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates
rec. December 1930, Kingsway Hall, London (Concerto) and November 1932, Abbey Road Studio 3 (Sonata)
ST-LAURENT STUDIO YSL 78-025 [63:25]

Experience Classicsonline

This is a useful coupling of two famous and virtuosic powerhouses, recorded by Horowitz within two years of each other in the early 1930s. They set the marker for his performances of both works, though later LP renditions were preferable, not just sonically but in some respects musically and indeed musicologically, given that Horowitz restored some of the cuts that had been made in his December 1930 set of the Rachmaninov concerto. 

Both performances, however, are blistering, the Liszt being one of the very fastest on record. Horowitz’s Fastest Gun in the West approach is searing, dramatic, exciting, propulsive, sometimes wilful, and endlessly fascinating. His Rachmaninov has the superior accompaniment of a specialist in Russian music, the Anglo-Russian Albert Coates whose podium volatility is matched by Horowitz’s own metrical impulsiveness. Not only is orchestral detail somewhat submerged in the 1932 Abbey Road balance, but Horowitz occasionally sprints away from Coates, much as he did apparently when Beecham made his New York debut, and the two men conjoined to perform the Tchaikovsky B minor, with predictably perilous results.
The transfers however leave quite a lot to be desired, regrettably. The essentially non-interventionist nature of the work is trumpeted, but you have to deal with shellac crackle - to which I’m personally not at all antipathetic - but also to some peak blasting - to which I am - and some scratches (ditto). I appreciate that this approach offers full-blooded 78 sound, but when there’s a bad side-join at 4:10 in the final section of the Liszt, one wishes for a more professional approach. The Rachmaninov is rather better in this respect and the copies used are quieter, but there is still overload and blasting at climaxes here too.
I suggest quieter and better, though less ‘present’, transfers of the Liszt can be found elsewhere; try The Complete European Solo Recordings 1930-36 on APR6004, a 2 CD set. If you want the Concerto, go for Naxos 8.110696.
Further exploration of Horowitz in the Concerto should include the 1951 Reiner, and also the ’78 Ormandy. He re-recorded the Sonata too, but never as blisteringly.
Jonathan Woolf





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