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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Horowitz’s famous wartime Carnegie Hall recording of the B flat minor Concerto has since remained the yardstick by which all subsequent versions have been judged. Somehow the alchemy of the occasion was unique and the result is unforgettable. In spite of the Carnegie Hall ambience, the recording is confirmed and lacking bass, but the Naxos transfer engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn, has achieve impressive results from a single post-war set of 78s in mint condition. Such is the magnetism of the playing, however, that the ear forgets the sonic limitations within moments. Toscanini’s accompaniment is remarkable not only for matching the adrenalin of his soloist (particularly in the visceral thrill of the finale’s climax), but for the tenderness he finds for the lyrical passages of the first movement. The powerful cadenza becomes its apex, with one passage in which there seem to be two pianists in duet, rather than just one pair of human hands. Toscanini’s moments of delicacy extend to the Andantino, which is semplice, even when accompanying the coruscating pianistic fireworks of the central section. The finale carries all before it, with Horowitz’s riveting octaves leading to a tremendously exciting statement of the big tune before storming off furiously to the coda.

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