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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Vladimir Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall: 1943-1978

Vladimir Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall: 1943-1978. Deluxe limited edition including

300 page book. Sony 88765484172 (41 CDs & 1 DVD).


By Max Massei

This set contains seventeen complete recitals, most of them presented in their entirety for the first time. There are also three recordings with orchestra, a chamber music concert, excerpts of ten other recitals and the first release on DVD of an appearance on television.

Carnegie Hall remained was central to Horowitz’ career since his debut there in 1928. Of course he played regularly in many other great auditoriums in the USA. However, Carnegie Hall remained the leading place for his musical activities in America until 1978. After that, he turned toward Avery Fisher Hall and the Metropolitan Opera, coming back to the 57th Street Hall only in 1985. In total, Horowitz performed nearly one hundred times at Carnegie Hall. 

After his debut concert in 1920, Horowitz played more than 300 times in Russia between 1921 and 1925, including a fantastic feat: eleven concerts in Petrograd in autumn, 1924 without playing the same work twice and again in January 1925 in nine other concerts.

From 1926 to 1936, he toured extensively out of his country with great success everywhere he played, ending each season with a recital in Paris, often at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées or Salle Pleyel. After a first break and a last European tour in 1938-1939, his career became an exclusively American one. In the forties, two kinds of novelties appeared regularly in his programs: a good amount of newly composed sonatas and a lot of transcriptions of his own. At this point he only gave approximately forty concerts each year, less than in the previous decades, but this time numerous concerts were recorded. 

CD 1: Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on 25 April 1943. This famous rendition was broadcast live (and released sixteen years later). The circumstances were very special. It was clearly a patriotic event, the tickets having been replaced by war bonds. It was the only appearance of Horowitz in several weeks because he had cancelled all others after the death of Rachmaninoff. Horowitz and Toscanini succeeded in subsuming their emotion in a very masterful and electrifying rendition, more balanced than the studio recording of two years before.

CD 2-7: Recitals of 17 January and 21 February 1949 and 20 March 1950. In 1945, Horowitz asked the Carnegie Hall Corporation to record his recitals there, not for further release but only for personal use. Up until 1950, he gave sixteen recitals at Carnegie Hall, but the one of 23 April 1945 was probably lost or not recorded (on that day, he played the Prokofiev Sonata No. 8). Horowitz donated the others, as well as some concerto performances, to Yale University. For the first time we can listen to three of them complete. 

In 1949, Horowitz began with the Bach Toccata BWV 911, which he played twice that year. The principal work in January was the Chopin Sonata No. 2 with a more dynamic rendition than the studio recording of 1950. After intermission, among a series of short pieces (the ones by Prokofiev and Debussy have been already released), there were some works by Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. Horowitz used a slightly different version of the Etude-Tableau, Op. 39, No. 9 than he used later.

Scriabin was in his programs only since 1948. In February, Vers la Flamme was played faster and in a more feverish spirit than in the seventies. The two 1949 recitals ended with the first version of the Rakoczy March, one of his most spectacular transcriptions. He changed the second part the next year for his studio recording. 

In March 1950, he played, for the second time at Carnegie Hall, the new Barber Sonata, in a less analytical mood than two months later in the studio. The Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses and  the Chopin Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise, frequently programmed in the forties, appeared at this time in a more singing and romantic fashion. Horowitz’s own transcriptions of Carmen Variations and Stars and Stripes Forever served as his personal signatures.

CD 8-11: Recitals of 5 March and 23 April 1951. RCA first recorded solo performances of Horowitz in 1951. The complete recital in March has been previously released in a 70 CD set by Sony. Most of the works he played in April are already released on LP, particularly a fantastic rendition of his own version of Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. Four pieces are new, importantly including a very romantic Chopin Barcarolle. 

CD 12: Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 with George Szell and the New York Philharmonic on 12 January 1953. Twenty-five years after his debut, Horowitz played his emblematic concerto once again. Szell, taking the place of an indisposed Mitropoulos, followed him perfectly. The playing is stupendous, more passionate than ten years before with Toscanini. This performance displays a remarkable pianistic power from the first notes and particularly in the third movement.

CD 13-14: Recital of 25 February 1953. Finally, we have the complete recital released! Did Horowitz suspect that this was his ultimate performance for many years? On the program, there were several crepuscular works: the last Schubert Sonata and Scriabin Sonata No. 9. The first piece was not, as it usually was, a Bach-Busoni, Scarlatti or Haydn piece, but Brahms’ last piano work, the Rhapsody, Op. 119, No. 4, played impetuously in spite of some faults. It is new in his discography. There was another novelty after intermission: the delicate Debussy The Little Shepherd. A second recital was scheduled for 23 March, but this time Horowitz was unable to play. There followed a twelve year break. 

CD 15-16: Recital of 9 May 1965. A performer cannot leave for a long retirement without damage. The Bach-Busoni Toccata, Adagio & Fugue began with the most well known wrong note in the history of recordings! Horowitz was a little in trouble at the end of the second movement of the Schumann Fantasie. But what a spirited performance! This authentic release presents us with the real spirit of a great master who has reached a new maturity (Bach Adagio), who has changed his mind about some works (the Scriabin Sonata No. 9 lasted three minutes longer than in 1953), and who is still able to display his virtuosity (Moszkowski Etude).

CD 17-22: Recitals of 17 April 1966, 27 November and 10 December 1966. Large parts of these recitals have already been released on LP. For those edited versions, material from rehearsals was perhaps used in order to get a commercial product. We discover on the live takes some marvelous performances: a Haydn Sonata, Debussy L’isle joyeuse and Liszt Vallée d’Obermann. Generally, the unedited recordings are not very different from the edited ones with a notable exception: the Scriabin Sonata No. 10. Horowitz also played the work at Carnegie Hall on 9 November 1965, and perhaps the edited recording came from that occasion. Among the new releases, there is a curious rendition of the Beethoven 32 Variations. Horowitz played it slowly and seemed uneasy in it, being more comfortable in the Chopin Sonata No.2. 

CD 23-24: Recital of 26 November 1967. Horowitz often played Beethoven Sonata No. 28 in the sixties and the eighties. It is the only sonata of that composer in his programs after 1965. For some critics his manner was not academic enough.

He was much more successful with the Chopin Barcarolle, Scarlatti Sonatas, Schumann Arabesque and Rachmaninoff Etudes-Tableaux. The Chopin Polonaise No. 5, Op. 44 was new in his repertoire, and he played it in a characteristic rebounding way. After a vertiginous Mendelssohn Etude, already released, he revived his Carmen Variations. The audience was thrilled and we hear it.

CD 25-26: Recitals of 2 January and 1 February 1968. Horowitz needed at least two sessions before an invited audience in order to record a program for television. He often said that he never played a work the same manner twice. This was particularly true of the two renditions of the Chopin Polonaise No. 5 and Ballade No. 1. They were rendered in a singing mood and a rather moderate tempo in January, with more energy and impetuosity in February. 

CD 27-30: Recitals of 24 November and 15 December 1968. Horowitz had worked on the Schumann Kreisleriana for many years. In Autumn 1968, he played the work before an audience for the first time. It was a torrent of notes, expressing the extreme mood swings of Schumann. The celebrated studio recording in 1969 was more controlled.

In the early forties, Horowitz had rewritten the Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 with the agreement of the composer and premiered this version in 1943. Twenty-five years later, he performed it so powerfully that, in November, he broke a piano string in the second movement. 

CD 31-34: Recitals of 16 and 23 November 1975. After four years without playing a concert, Horowitz decided to play more often than in the sixties. Unfortunately, his program at Carnegie Hall on 27 April 1975 was not recorded. In the subsequent 1975-1976 season he gave nearly twenty recitals. The main work was the Schumann Sonata No. 3. Until then, he had played only the third movement, being the Variations on a Theme by Clara Wieck. The whole piece is difficult, with a last part prestissimo and accelerando! In the seventies, he could still play marvelously but his accuracy became irregular, and the sound sometimes appeared harsher than it was before. 

CD 35-36: “Concert of the Century” on 18 May 1976. Just after his first great tour since the early fifties, Horowitz agreed to play with other performers for the Carnegie Hall Fund. In Russia the young pianist had given many chamber concerts with violinist Milstein and cellist Garbousova, and he had also accompanied several great singers. Some years later he had formed a trio with Milstein again and Piatigorsky. In 1976, it was the turn of Stern and Rostropovich, but the highlight of the evening was his meeting with Fischer-Dieskau for the Schumann Dichterliebe. In the latter, Horowitz demonstrated his knowledge of this repertoire and his ability to follow a singer.

CD 37: Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3, Op. 30 with Eugene Ormandy and the New York Philharmonic on 8 January 1978. For the fiftieth anniversary of his American debut, Horowitz chose his favorite concerto, this time uncut. In the past, he had played the work very often, with more success than the composer himself. However, he had not performed with orchestra since 1953. That is why it was necessary to re-record some portions after the concert. It is the only edited recording of the set. 

CD 38-41: Excerpts of ten recitals from 1946 to 1950. All of these selections have been previously released. In 1945, Horowitz played the Beethoven Waldstein Sonata very fast but with perfect articulation, and he showed his sense of rhythm in the Barber Excursions. The Schumann Fantasie had been one of his favorite romantic pieces. Kabalevsky was frequently present on his programs in the late forties; his rendition of the Sonata No. 2 in 1947 is a real feat of acrobatics in the third movement, as are the eight Preludes. In Liszt’s Legend No. 2, St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots, the series of octaves figuring the waves are breathtaking. From 1948, there are a sensitive, rarely played Chopin Fantaisie, Op. 49 and another rendition of the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. 

In 1949, the slightly shortened Liszt Sonata reveals to us how he had changed his playing since his wonderful recording of 1932. The first recital in 1950 ended with a fantastic version of Balakirev Islamey. In April, the Chopin Polonaise No. 1 showed again Horowitz’s Slavic roots. Two other recitals, of 4 March and 24 April 1946, are not represented in the set and are entirely unreleased.

DVD: Recital for television in 1968. There is only one film showing Horowitz at the piano before 1968, a silent movie in slow motion of the pianist playing two Chopin Etudes in Paris in the twenties. Therefore, the 1968 recital on television is a revelation. Unfortunately, after many years of being stored, the picture is a little damaged. Now on DVD, it has been presented as well as possible. We can observe the position of his hands – the fingers were not really flat but passed from stretched to relaxed position, always ready to rebound on the keyboard without useless movement. We can also examine his astonishing fingerings.

The recordings on CDs are remarkably restored by Jon Samuels. 

When playing for an audience, Horowitz was a performer who tells a story. In these complete recitals, we hear how this musical narrator relates a fairy tale up to the end. Each program is built as a whole, moving along with all the pianistic features and giving us an ever larger range of artistic emotions than in the previous selected works. When you take a disc out of this set, you are at Carnegie Hall. Then someone switches off the lights. The concert is going to begin. Reviewed by Max Massei


This review first appeared in the ARSC Journal (of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections), 2014;45(1):87-91, and is reprinted with the permission of the author, Max Massei, and the publisher of the ARSC Journal.  For information about ARSC, see www.ARSC-audio.org.