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Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, June 2008

A fireball sets Chopin alight: the cautious are advised to keep clear

No pianist played closer to the edge than Vladimir Horowitz. And here, in this invaluable reissue of performances dating from 1949-57, you are once more made aware of that elemental violence and caprice that could leave his audiences in a state of stupefaction, provoked and seduced by his charismatic force and wicked ways. For some he was "a master of musical distortion" (Virgil Thomson); and lovers of Rubinstein's patrician elegance, Lipatti's regality or Arrau's earnest philosophising in Chopin should steer clear. Indeed, those of a cautious or conservative nature will run for cover in the face of such a wily and elemental assault. Here, the Barcarolle's audacious harmonic shifts are tweaked and underlined, the build-up to the Fourth Ballade's final pages turned into a cataclysmic uproar. Again, there are those (the august authors of The Record Guide) who felt that Horowitz's way with the Second Sonata reduces great music "to the level of a Victorian melodrama". But such comments surely miss the point. Horowitz was always Horowitz and never more so than on this disc where his Chopin is "like a fireball exploding" (Rudolf Serkin). A previously unavailable performance of the Fourth Ballade provides a fascinating addition even if the pianist's thunder and lightning is muted by the 1949 sound.

Horowitz once told me that he could play like an angel but he was unapologetically of the devil's party, and all lovers of ultra-virtuosity and pianistic sorcery will have to have this.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

To today’s younger generation, Vladimir Horowitz represents a virtuoso pianist who had perfection high on his list of musical priorities. A teenage virtuoso born to a prosperous family, he found himself supporting his once wealthy parents in the aftermath of the Revolution by giving countless concerts, many in partnership with the young violinist, Nathan Milstein. He eventually left the newly founded Soviet Union in 1925 at the age of 22 and began a nomadic life in Europe. Finally exhausted by the number of concerts demanded of him, he suffered a physical breakdown in 1936 and spent two years recovering in Switzerland. Moving to the States at the onset of the Second World War he created a sensation with the brilliance of his playing. His ill-health caught up with him again in the mid 1950’s this time forcing him to retire from the stage for 12 years. He did eventually enjoy an Indian Summer before his death in 1989, and it is this part of his career by which he is now largely remembered. He had lived with Chopin’s Second Sonata for many years, having first recorded the work just before his first breakdown, and it was to be in 1950 that he made this version at sessions in New York’s Town Hall. It is a highly charged and at times restless view, the famous Marche funebre taken at a more urgent pace than we normally hear. The clarity of his playing throughout the work is remarkable, the shape of each movement carefully considered. The remainder of the disc is given to the Barcarolle in F sharp minor; Ballade No. 4; Poloniase No.7; the Third Etude and the First Scherzo. There is delicacy to be found in performances that avoid the capricious approach that has today become fashionable, the playing more solid and bristling with technical brilliance. Turn to the mercurial Scherzo for a sample of his shameless showmanship. In sum I do not subscribe to the critics who find him willful in his approach to Chopin, though this collection of original 78’s probably found Horowitz at his most self-effacing. With the Naxos restoration the sound of the various New York locations between 1949 and 1957 is uniformly good.






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11:41:35 PM, 29 July 2014
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