Vladimir Horowitz, pianist
in live performances of
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1
and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3
with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
John Barbirolli, conductor
Appian APR 5519 [ADD, about 66 minutes]
Review by Lance G. Hill:
The fact that Vladimir Horowitz has not been amongst us for nine years has seen no decline in the interest of this pianist. If you are a piano aficionado like me, then you probably miss his occasional new release on discs. On the other hand, his recorded legacy is huge, almost from the beginning to the conclusion of his life. All the more reason to take any live-performance recording by “The Boss,” as he was once called.
Anyone interest in great recordings of the past simply cannot pass up the opportunity to secure recordings from Appian Publications & Recordings (APR) of Great Britain. The discs are more “pricy” than most imports and their complete catalogue is rarely available at one time, even in the large mega-stores even though Albany Distributors of Albany, New York import them in the US.
Nobody in the record business does a finer job of restoring old piano recordings better than APR. They have as a director, Mr. Edwin Alan, whose brainchild APR apparently is. Everything APR does, from the processing, liner notes, and packaging is first class. They also have at their disposal, Bryan Crimp who spent time with EMI in England, restoring historical recordings for that great company. Crimp does the transferring and remastering. He probably could have had another life as a writer or journalist; his writing of notes included in APR releases is as brilliant as his remastering talents.
All of that is said to bring us to this new, first ever issue featuring pianist Vladimir Horowitz in two live performances of piano concertos long associated with him. In the 1940s Horowitz was at the absolute zenith of his “bravura years.” These recordings thus add another dimension to the Horowitz discography. Horowitz has several recordings of both of these concertos to his credit, studio and commercially available live performances. His live performances give us more than a glimpse into what can only be defined as the “magic” of one of the world’s greatest pianists. In the early years, there was a “nervousness” about his playing that is electric, totally staggering. In listening to these performances with the New York Philharmonic Symphony under John Barbirolli (who was not yet at that time knighted), Barbirolli has all he can do to keep this “tiger” of a pianist under his control. This is not said to have negative connotations. The Horowitz technique at that time was simply unleashed, almost uncontrollable. If ever there was a pianist who took risks, it was Horowitz. He almost always won.
From the opening of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 through the final movement, you will find yourself on the edge of your seat. I recall hearing another live performance of this concerto recorded just prior to Horowitz’s “retirement” in 1953 (with George Szell conducting) that concluded in very much the same manner as this March 1940 performance. It is quite simply the most incredible piano virtuosity one can hear. Horowitz colors the music with his unique palette making this one of the most memorable performances you will ever hear. The sonority of his instrument becomes orchestral. Horowitz is like a demon pulling the sound from his piano like no one else. The music demands it. His “sound” is uniquely his. It cannot be compared to anyone else.
The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 was also a Horowitz war-horse. While we have several recordings available of this work from RCA and EMI played by Horowitz, the love for Rachmaninoff is felt by the pianist like no other. He was a close friend of the composer and that friendship imbues any performances of Rachmaninoff under Horowitz’s hands in a special, indelible manner. Horowitz seems to understand this music better than most. Any pianist who attempts this overwhelming work cannot even think about not having a technique to negotiate the music. This music is endowed with color, so much romanticism and expression that only a few recordings of the almost countless made over the years sets this live performance, recorded in May 1941, apart from all the rest. All of the superlatives used for Vladimir Horowitz need not be repeated here. Just to be able to hear the pianist in such top form is reason enough to be thankful that APR has made them available to us.
The recorded sound is not without flaws. A drop in turntable speed in the Tchaikovsky is the most glaring problem. APR has taken the situation in hand in their incomparable manner. One becomes so engrossed in the music making that one is not aware of any deficiencies in the sound for long.
I wholeheartedly recommend this recording. When the urge to hear either of these concertos appears, you will turn to these inscriptions time and time again.
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