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One of the finest versions


Horowitz – Live At Carnegie Hall – Volume 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80 (1806) [10:19]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu in G flat major, Op.90 No.3, D899 (1827) [6:42]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [28:42]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op 52 (1842 rev. 1843) [9:57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sérénade à la poupée (No. 3 from Coin des Enfants, 1906-08) [2:56]
Étude pour les huit doigts (No. 6 from Etudes, Livre 1, 1915) [1:31]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Funerailles (No. 7 from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III, S.173) [9:51]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Prelude in G major, Op.32 No.5 [3:05]
Prelude in G minor, Op.23 No.5 [3:44]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in A, K322/L483 [2:41]
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
rec. live, 2 April 1948, Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Not long after the release of volume one in this series (review), we’re treated to a new date in this collection of previously-unissued recordings made for pianist Vladimir Horowitz by the in-house Carnegie Hall Recording Company onto acetate 78rpm discs. This second concert was Horowitz’s last of the 1947-48 season, taking place on the evening of Friday 2nd April 1948, two months after the previous concert. As with the previous event the complete programme with encores makes it a few minutes too long for a single CD. The encores are given as a free MP3 download which comes when you buy the CD at Pristine Classical, though I’m not quite sure how this is done as there are no instructions with the review copy. I enquired via the Pristine site but received no answer, so I can’t comment on these extra tracks. The album can also be downloaded as FLAC or MP3 and all tracks are automatically included in this case.

Along with some audience noise this recording is startlingly fresh, the original and/or the transfer sounding if anything better than volume one. The Beethoven 32 Variations in C minor are played with brisk elegance, with plenty of fire and brimstone and dynamic contrasts in this stormy opening. Schubert’s Impromptu D 899 is the only overlap in repertoire between the two volumes and could perhaps more profitably have been swapped for the encores in this case, there being precious little difference between the two versions other than the collection of coughs with which they are ornamented.

The main dish in this programme is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, for which each movement is usefully given a separate track on this release. Horowitz goes for the full orchestral effect here, stretching the piano to its limits even in the opening Promenade. This is by no means a flawless performance, but is fabulous in its imagery. Horowitz gets to the Russian heart and soul of this piece, exploring and ruminating in such movements as Il Vecchio Castello, not racing but teasing playfully in the Tuilleries and the flighty Ballet de Poussins dans leurs Coques, and darkly plumbing the depths of the Catacombae. This is the kind of work that suits Horowitz’s extremes perfectly. His freedom with rhythm, tempi and texture give this performance a powerfully improvisatory feel, and one which is admirable for its character and individuality.

Horowitz digs really deep into that final Porte of Pictures at an Exhibition, and after such a fevered and monumental experience the opening of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 feels like a cooling-down. Horowitz is expressive but quite fast-paced and relatively understated here, giving the work more of a waltz feel while singing the melodic lines out with typical elasticity, building with care to the piece’s fleeting central climax and keeping plenty in reserve for the massive final pages, the penultimate bars almost dissolving into chaos.

The Debussy Sérénade à la poupée is nicely turned out, if perhaps a little spiky. The Etude pour les huit doigts is a remarkable explosion of notes, and a maximum contrast to the gloom of Liszt’s Funerailles. Horowitz’s velvet touch in parts of this piece is good to hear, and you can almost sense the audience leaning forward at times. The Rachmaninov Preludes are light relief, and you can feel Horowitz enjoying the rowdy moments in the Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 No. 5 perhaps even a bit too much. Andrew Rose notes that the first 11 bars of the Scarlatti were missing from the original recording. If he hadn’t pointed this out I doubt anyone would have noticed: “By careful editing and the removal of an extraneous note decay, I was able to use the repeat of the opening to replace the missing section. It is interesting to see how incredibly closely and precisely the playing of that repeat matched what we do have of its first incarnation in both timing and nuance - I have little doubt that the playing of the opening bars would likewise have sounded just as it does in the recreation created here.”

All in all this is another priceless document from a moment in music history that would otherwise have vanished as soon as it had sounded. Horowitz’s unique artistry in live performance is a real experience, even with the occasional fluff and wild moment. Fans, collectors, aficionados and other sub-groups of music appreciators need not hesitate.

Dominy Clements



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