Thursday, July 09, 2009

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall - The Private Collection

When I was younger, one of the things I always wished when listening to some of the late recordings of Vladimir Horowitz was to be able to hear more recordings of him in his prime than were available then, with a level of sound quality that would give a more complete picture of his playing, and be able to fill in the many mysterious gaps in his decades-long development as a pianist.

That moment has come.

Sony has recently announced three collections of recently unearthed recordings of Horowitz, the first of which is entitled Vladimir Horowitz At Carnegie Hall-The Private Collection: Mussorgsky & Liszt.

Some interesting tidbits about the lost recordings and their reappearance from Sony's press release:
This release features performances of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, from April 2, 1948, and the Liszt Sonata, from March 21, 1949, both at Carnegie Hall. Two more Private Collection releases are scheduled for the fall and early 2010; they include music by Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Haydn, and Beethoven.

In 1988, a year before his death, Horowitz donated to Yale University a treasure trove of original recordings composed of Carnegie Hall concerts and performances he gave during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Horowitz had employed an engineer to make 78-rpm recordings of his Carnegie Hall concerts in this period, and he used them to review and judge his performances. Most of these mono recordings were originally contained on 12- and 16-inch acetate discs. They have been impeccably mastered, with the sound restored, from new transfers made in the Yale archives. Significant press accompanied the original announcement of the donation of these recordings to Yale, where Horowitz performed often through the years and was an assistant fellow of Silliman College.

The first volume is classic Horowitz. He is in sovereign form for the Liszt Sonata, a piece associated with him throughout his career for its incredible virtuoso display, with its cascading runs punctuated by incisive chords. As David Dubal, professor of Piano Performance at the Juilliard School, mentions in his liner notes, “His Liszt Sonata was invincible.” Dubal adds that the private collection release is “more glorious than the 1932 recording,” which is typically considered the gold standard for performance of the sonata. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition demonstrates a different kind of fearlessness unique to Horowitz. His interpretive license as a transcriber of famous works and melodies—including his frequent encores, Variations on a Theme from ‘Carmen’ and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever—has become a part of his legacy, but even in this context, his transcription of Mussorgsky’s Pictures is particularly bold. For Horowitz, there were no hallowed works, only great performances.
What I noticed about these recordings is that they offer an amazingly accurate picture of how Horowitz played at the absolute height of his powers, and with pretty good sound to boot (albeit for the late 40's on acetate). In addition to deadly accuracy, which one doesn't associate with his later recordings, he is able to create unbelievably bold colors at the piano, from passages played with raw power and authority to moments of the most exquisite and tender sentiment imaginable.

Now the cool part...

To celebrate this occasion, Sony Music has made available to readers of the Collaborative Piano Blog two copies of Horowitz at Carnegie Hall - The Private Collection, and to decide who gets them, I will be holding a contest tomorrow on Friday, July 10 at 12pm EDT.

The contest post will go live at noon EDT and to win you'll need to answer a skill-testing Horowitz trivia question and email me the answer. Stay tuned...

(Thanks, Dana!)


  1. Anonymous1:00 PM

    I am looking forward to hearing this disk.

    As a Horowitz fan, I'd say his prime was when he was young, although he produced gems throughout his career--his Command Performance (recorded live) for the Queen of England when he was approaching 80 is an example. His recording of Chopin's Marzurka in A minor, Op. 17-4 is a classic.

    As to his Middle Period (he had three, having retired twice), I am particularly fond of some of his 1949 recordings of Chopin mazurkas--Op.7-3, 41-1, 63-3, and couple of others.

    As to the music from Horowitz's First Period. I highly recommend his 1936 reading of Chopin's Scherzo No. 4 in E. No one else has come close to playing this Chopin masterpiece as well as he did in his prime.

  2. Mikhail Kaykov1:08 PM

    I hope they would release more Volumes - The Bach-Busoni Tocatta Adagio and Fugue from 1950 is still unreleased. I think it is even better than his 1965 version.

    -Mikhail Kaykov

  3. Horowitz's Steinway D is currently touring around the country. We'll be hosting it in early April, but check around and see if it will be in your area. It's a great piece of history!