There's an interview with Horowitz on YouTube. Taped in 1977, it's cheesy and low-brow. Sir Les Patterson, Australia's Cultural Ambassador to the Court of St James and Minister for the Yartz, would have done a better job. However inadvertently, the interviewer channels Pontius Pilate: in response to a question, the Russian pianist declares solemnly: "Yes, I am a king. When I'm on stage, I am a king."
Does this survey of Schumann, recorded in the same decade, receive the royal treatment?
Schumann's Third Piano Sonata is more monstrous than Frankenstein with a perm and man-boobs. Felicitous it ain't. Can anyone bring it to heel? Pollini excludes the Scherzo. I daresay that Marc- Andre Hamelin has the weaponry to do so. There's more errancy in Horowitz's performance than Peter the Great's All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters. Even so, could one suggest that it's a heroic failure? What infantry are to a Chinese general, notes are to Horowitz. Bugger his `pharmaceutical loading' at the time: he conveys the thorny grandeur of the work. His innate tension is not out of place. The Variations on the Theme by Clara are beguilingly done.
The crown rightens in Opus 20. Good as Lupu is, nothing can match this Humoureske for its wit, playfulness and elation. Horowitz is clearly swept up by its plenitude. It's reason alone to purchase this disc.
The Phantasiestücke for Piano, Op. 111, was composed in 1851. It's inspired. At times, Schumann runs out of steam in finales but not here: it's arguably the highlight of the work in its swagger. What a melody! Horowitz does its justice.
Perhaps the best thing on this disc is Horowitz's Nachtstücke, Op. 23/No. 4. How does anyone coax such sonorities from a piano? Wizardy is in play.
The stereo recordings are hard and unatmospheric. Hail the King nevertheless, warts and all!
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Reviewers in USA (Amazon.com) point out, Sonata No.3, recorded live in 1976, was 'cobbled together from numerous performances, a portion of the first movement is missing' and 'riddled with many mistakes' etc. As far as my copy is concerned, I could not detect any of those problems. The copy issued in Europe is perhaps different from the one released in USA? I can not guarantee, though, as I don't own LP version of the recording and I haven't studied the original score yet.
Anyway, my first impression of the recording is that it is a typical Horowitz performance - the extreme dynamic contrast, the ephemeral poetic beauty, breath taking tonal delicacy, and pulsating nervous energy, all makes for an unforgettable listening experience.
A critic on Amazon.com says about Humoreske (recorded live in 1979), 'It's all the more puzzling, then, that he plays the Humoreske with such a lack of conviction, concentrating entirely on its pianistic aspects and neglecting its musical innovations.' I've found it very misleading. There is no lack of conviction in this deeply felt, inspiring performance, which is very personal and intimate.
The same can be said of Fantasiestücke Op.111 and Nachtstücke Op.23-No.3&4, recorded live in 1980.
Overall, this CD is a must-have for fans, as it contains 72 minutes of wonderfully poetic and scintillating performances, all recorded in much better stereo sound, that fully present the pianist as an unique interpreter of Schumann's piano music.
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These Schumann performances all date from the 1960's when Horowitz (b 1904) was still in his prime. They are treasures of the kind of Schumann playing that makes me think of Horowitz as the prince of all that composer's interpreters on the piano. Whether in Schumann or in Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scarlatti or Scriabin, there was never anyone quite like Horowitz. Late in his career he remarked that although several younger players were now more reliably accurate in such-and-such by Liszt, after ten minutes he had had enough of them and he at least sounded different.
Indeed he does sound different, and this selection of his Schumann is a monument both to what was poetic and to what was powerful in his playing before he felt he had to make excuses. Everyone knows what a technical prodigy Horowitz was, but in the powerful stuff what impresses me more than that is the individuality and fearlessness of his tone. He is not afraid to let a 9-foot grand piano rip, and I have never yet disliked the sound he makes when he does. Not just that, there is a spontaneous quality to Horowitz's virtuosity that marks him out from the ultra-perfectionist tendency that set in with Michelangeli, gaining its later practitioners even less respect from that giant than they had got from Horowitz. You will find plenty of this prophetic thunder in the Kreisleriana, and you will also find how well it can be integrated into a single piece, such as the longish second number, with tender lyricism that equals anything that Cortot or Michelangeli or any of them ever turned out.
That, to me, embodies the soul and spirit of Schumann. The energetic `Florestan' side of the composer is represented on this disc mainly in the Kreisleriana. The lyrical side is there too, and everywhere else except in the Toccata, the recorded sound is good, and the combination makes this disc a priceless monument to Horowitz the poet. The Kinderszenen ends with a piece called `The Poet Speaks', but surely in it we hear the composer himself speaking through the fingers of this colossus among practitioners of the composer's own favoured instrument.
Even blockbuster virtuoso pieces call for sympathetic treatment from their interpreters. This interpreter, who seems ideally cast in the Scenes From Childhood, also has, in case we might have temporarily forgotten, the powerful fists required by the Toccata. I find commentators a bit silly when they exclaim in tones of apparent astonishment that this or that performer makes the Toccata more than just a virtuoso showpiece, as if musicality went in some kind of inverse ratio to technical difficulty. I also recall first becoming aware of the Richter mania when some reviewer in The Gramophone hyperventilated to the effect that Richter's delivery of the big `rat-tat' chords near the end without easing the exactness of his rhythm made him `a super-Horowitz'. I'm quite sure Richter knew better than that, because not only does Horowitz carry off the effect easily as well but so does Cziffra (who really was a technical super-Horowitz) and so, I imagine, does anyone calling himself or herself a virtuoso. What makes the Toccata special from Horowitz is the exquisite detail in his phrasing, and in particular his `terraced' dynamics. These may have been what has created an impression that the piece has been tape-spliced, a view that surely must be mistaken. Even in 1962 there would have been no need to tape-splice a piece lasting just over 6 minutes including the exposition repeat. In the unlikely event that anything had gone badly wrong, this was a studio recording and it would have been simplest just to retake it.
They are all studio recordings except for the two final jewels, the Arabesque and the Blumenstueck, which are Carnegie Hall performances but just as well recorded as the other works, and (if I really need to say so) just as well and as understandingly played. There is a short liner note, which is strictly disposable-wrapper material, Mr Horowitz this and Mr Horowitz that. What is not disposable is the contents of the package.
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