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Vladimir Horowitz – The Studio Recordings, New York 1985
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 [31:04]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1767)
Sonata in B minor, K. 87 [4:22]
Sonata in E major, K. 135 [3:15]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Impromptu in F sharp major [3:20]
Valse Oubliée No. 1 in F sharp major [3:05]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Etude in D sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12 [2:14]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu in B-flat major, D935, No. 3 [10:04]
Military March in D flat major, D733, No. 1 (arr. Tausig) [6:09]
rec. New York, RCA Studio A, September 1985
Presto CD

The legendary Russian virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) made a much-acclaimed return to the recording studio in 1985, after a significant hiatus. There is a marvelously improvisational tenor in these eight works, some of which were new to the Horowitz discography.

The major work, Robert Schumann’s 1838 suite Kreisleriana, owes its conception to the influence of E.T.A. Hoffmann on Schumann’s own vivid imagination. That expressed itself in a psychological dualism of passionate energy, Florestan, and lyrical, poetic musing, Eusebius. Hoffmann created the figure of the violinist Johannes Kreisler, a musician – based on Niccolò Paganini – imbued with both frenzy and intimate musings.

We glean immediately from Horowitz’s rendition of the eight sections of Kreisleriana that the sheer exuberance of the occasion projects itself into every phrase, whether agitated or restrained. This intricate and variegated work, meant for Schumann’s wife Clara, came to be dedicated to Chopin, a composer dear to Horowitz as well. Horowitz takes the opening in D Minor and the seventh section in C Minor quite fast, a kind of toccata in imitation of the violin’s bariolage technique, imitated by Rachmaninoff in his Op. 43 Rhapsody. To find solace in the midst of emotional turmoil often defines the motion of the successive sections, as in the Sehr aufgeregt third section in G Minor, in which a cantering theme first finds relief, only to break out in waves of wild restlessness at the coda. In grand contrast, Horowitz brings out, rather “breathes” out, Schumann’s emotional fragility in sections 4 and 6. And, in those episodes, as Nos. 6 and 7, which nod to Bach, Horowitz has a mesmeric capacity for clarity in moments of stretto, layered sound.

The music of Domenico Scarlatti, always dear to Horowitz, makes a well-considered shift in temperament and texture. The B-minor Sonata presents a melancholic aria rich in polyphony and modal shades of harmony. The delicacy in the Horowitz reading strikes us for its galant restraint, its combination of subtle erotics and emotional mystery. The E major buoyantly asserts its opportunities for singing, virtuoso display, marked by frequent crossing of hands, and by most transparently rendered scales and arpeggiated figures.

Horowitz openly embraces the erotic tendencies in Franz Liszt with two pieces notable for the gossamer fabric: the 1854 Impromptu (Nocturne) in F sharp Major and the 1881 “Forgotten” Waltz No. 1. The former projects an intimate emotion close to the more popular Liebestraum in A flat, while the latter conveys an ironic impulse in salon form. Horowitz then proceeds to one of the most passionate salon works in music, Scriabin’s 1894 Étude in D sharp minor, whose murderous stretches and leaps pose no obstacle to the intense frenzy of the occasion Horowitz achieves.

To conclude this second “Historic Return”, Horowitz turns to Franz Schubert’s sweet lyricism, first with the 1827 Impromptu setting of music he had used in his 1823 Rosamunde and A Minor String Quartet, the theme and variations in B-flat Major. Throughout, Horowitz projects an ease of manner and brio that quite enchant us as he proceeds through the five variants. The third variation, in the parallel minor, has Horowitz confront two competing rhythms, duple and in triplets, a moment of unease before the transition to G flat major for a brightly lit romp. Horowitz exploits the last variation’s use of syncopation to introduce a humorous element that he will develop for his last showpiece, the dazzling improvisation on the popular March militaire No. 1 in D in a transcription by Carl Tausig (1841-1871), the Polish virtuoso whom Liszt called “the infallible with fingers of steel”.

What most impresses me in the March transcription is the Horowitz sonority, which has assumed all the power of a full orchestra. After the explosive opening section, Horowitz enters the trio with an impish gait supported by translucent trills and high scales in syncopation and registration shifts. At age 82, Horowitz has lost none of his sheer delight in music-making, and we all become the beneficiaries of a grand artist completely ennobled in his environment. The piano sound, courtesy of Producer Thomas Frost, has been first rate, pungent and glorious on all counts.
Gary Lemco

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