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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Much of the mystique surrounding the name of Vladimir Horowitz is due to his well-publicized withdrawals from the public arena, but to date, unlike Garbo, he has always reappeared, and playing much the same repertoire, as this disc testifies. This release marks the first of a series of recordings for DG and it is taken from the sound-track of a video on Horowitz, which was recorded at his Manhattan home in April 1985. In an immaculate recording that tends to expose the thin and rather uneven quality of the treble register on Horowitz's pet old Steinway, one can hear all of those familiar pianistic tricks, the highly idiosyncratic and illusionary pedallings and the fleet fingerwork that amounts almost to a sleight-of-hand. Whilst it is true
that the 80-year-old pianist cannot avoid moments of technical clumsiness, especially in the two larger Chopin pieces, the overall effect is one of a nervous youthful brio combined with introspective sensitivity. His old-school approach to the piano ensures that the broad lines of the music are always preserved.
There are only two items here that Horowitz has not previously recorded: the Mozart sonata and the Schumann. It is especially the Mozart that highlights the deficiencies of his much-travelled instrument, but perhaps the magically light passagework of the finale could not have been achieved on a more modern grand. Schumann's Novellette can be classed as vintage Horowitz; the grandiloquent majesty of the opening chords comes across without the slightest affectation, and there is more in the way of emotional involvement here than in the larger Chopin works with their melodramatically extravagant climaxes.
It is nice to hear Horowitz reviving the Bach/Busoni arrangement, which he last recorded in 1947 (RCA DM1284—nla); here we have a melody phrased with that joinless type of legato that eludes the majority of today's pianists. The Schubert Impromptu (the one in descending broken chords) may set off at rather a deliberate pace and be undermined by various bars being played out of time, but Horowitz's poise allows the interpretation to achieve a transparency that heightens the effect of innocence. From the stylistic point of view it is certainly the two Russian pieces and the Liszt that are the prize items.
Having praised the superb quality of the sound, I must voice a reservation: at the beginning of the infamous left-hand octave episode in the Polonaise the timbre of the piano alters radically, and I suspect this could be due to some less-than-expert editing—it is a temporary disturbance that I could have done without. The recital ends with the Moszkowski Etude (not the one in A flat that he has also recorded) and it is a little unrhythmical, but contains enough of the Horowitz diablerie and wit to leave one amazed at his wholly unique artistry, and the extent to which this has been preserved. After all, how many major pianists are there active today who were born in the pre-First-World-War era? Perlemuter, Horszowski and Arrau spring to mind, but none of these has quite the same legendary status as Horowitz.
-- James Methuen-Campbell, Gramophone [5/1986]
Works on This Recording
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Vladimir Horowitz (Piano)
Written: by 1723; ?Weimar, Germany
Notes: Transcribed: Ferruccio Busoni
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
81 Years Young December 16, 2011
By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH) See All My Reviews
"The career of Vladimir Horowitz had many ups and downs. When he retired after a series of disastrous concerts in 1983, very few thought he would ever play again. It was learned that Horowitz was off his game during that time due to anti-depressant medication which affected his memory and coordination. Horowitz dropped the medications in 1984, and spent much of that year enduring withdrawal symptoms. He didn't begin practicing again until late-1984.
By 1985, he felt well enough to begin performing again, but didn't want to immediately face a live audience. It was decided that a documentary would be made, and thus "Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic," filmed in the pianist's townhouse, came to fruition. The performances in this CD are taken from that film, although in some cases different takes were used.
Horowitz, 81 years young at the time, plays well here - although his performance is not quite on the same level it would be one year later at his legendary Moscow recital. The Bach-Busoni Chorale, Mozart Sonata, and Schumann Novelette reveal the playing of a grand master in sovereign command of his resources. The Bach-Busoni is especially noteworthy for Horowitz's ability to separate musical lines. The Chopin Mazurka and Liszt Consolation are wonderfully poetic, and the Rachmaninoff Prelude is appropriately brooding.
It must be admitted however, some of the more bravura pieces do not match his best playing from earlier years. The Chopin Scherzo betrays hints of frailty (although some of the tempos are astonishing), and the "Heroic" Polonaise is taken at a rather cautious tempo. Any doubt about the coordination of Horowitz's fingers, however, will be banished by the Moszkowski Etude. Lightning fast, with very little pedal, the pianist reportedly did it in one take.
The sound is rather airless and confined, but clean and focused."