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Works on This Recording
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 by Robert Schumann
Vladimir Horowitz (Piano)
Written: 1838; Germany
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Picky Schubert and Inspired Schumann December 16, 2011
By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH) See All My Reviews
"Horowitz the Poet contains performances released after the pianist's death and approved by the his widow, Wanda Toscanini Horowitz. Vladimir Horowitz had a complicated relationship with Schubert's last piano Sonata. He revered the Sonata from the 1930s on, but felt it was too small scale a work for performance in today's large concert halls. He finally gave it a try in 1953, playing it at the 25th Anniversary of his American Debut. One critic wrote, correctly, that "Horowitz subjects poor, innocent Schubert to the most neurotic bombardment." The hypertense, oversized 1953 performance is one of the most uncomfortable piano recordings ever made. Despite his difficulties in bringing it to life, Horowitz remained fond of the Sonata and often played it at home. His conception mellowed over the years, and friends urged him to perform it again. Horowitz played the Schubert at several recording sessions in March of 1986, about one month before his Moscow concert. So, his mind may have been elsewhere during these sessions. On the positive side, there is a welcome sense of relaxation, he plays the often neglected first movement repeat, and he gets the tempos right. (It's nice to hear the second movement, marked Andante sostenuto, played at the intended tempo - instead of Adagio or even Largo.) But there are too many negatives here: Horowitz gussies up the piano writing (adding fifths in the left hand and lowering bass notes), breaks apart phrases, and generally disrupts the flow of the music to the extent that what is left is a parody of Schubert's most sublime piano sonata. He's also not quite up to snuff technically in the last movement. The pianist himself recognized the problems with this performance - calling it "fussy" - and refused to grant Deutsche Grammophon permission to release it. (Other pieces recorded during those sessions, Schubert's Moment Musical No. 3, the Schubert-Liszt Serenade, and Soirees de Vienna No. 6, were released on the "Horowitz at Home" CD in 1989.) In 1991, Wanda Toscanini Horowitz overrode her late husband's rejection and allowed the Sonata to be released. It says something about Mrs. Horowitz's musical judgment that she approved the release of a substandard performance of a highly regarded musical work, but she refused RCA permission to release Horowitz's astounding live performances of Balakirev's Islamey and Liszt's St. Francis Walking on the Water because she felt they were unmusical warhorses. She was clearly more interested in associating her husband's name with snob repertoire than in great performances. Horowitz had a more steady relationship with Schumann's Kinderszenen. The pianist played it frequently in concert from the 1940s on. This version, his fourth official recording of the work, is from a live performance in Vienna's Great Golden Hall in May of 1987, one of Horowitz's last concerts. In many ways, it's also his finest recording of Kinderszenen. Horowitz's two studio renderings, from 1950 and 1962, are fairly straightforward accounts, with occasional lapses into pianistic micromanagement and hints of nervousness when there should be relaxation. A 1982 live recording is almost the opposite, with bizarre rubatos, distended ritards, slack rhythm, and almost no coherence. But here, in 1987, Horowitz has pulled himself together and plays with simplicity, controlled freedom, and conviction. It is often said that the elderly sometimes return to a childlike state. In old age, Horowitz had achieved communion with Schumann's visions of childhood lost. The sound is fine in both works, with remarkably little audience noise during the live Kinderszenen."