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Encores [1942-81] by Vladimir Horowitz

Encores [1942-81]

by Vladimir Horowitz

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Horowitz Encores

[1] Bizet-Horowitz: Variations on a Theme from “Carmen” [22 Dec 1947]*
[2] Saint-Saëns-Liszt-Horowitz: Danse macabre [10 Sep 1942]
[3] Mozart: Rondo alla turca (Sonata, K. 331: III) [25 October 1946]
[4] Mendelssohn-Liszt-Horowitz: Wedding March and Variations [22 Nov 1946]
[5] Mendelssohn: Élégie, Op. 85 No. 5 [29 Oct 1946]
[6] Mendelssohn: Spring Song, Op. 62 No. 6 [29 Oct 1946]
[7] Mendelssohn: The Shepherd’s Complaint, Op. 67 No. 5 [29 Oct 1946]
[8] Debussy: Serenade to the Doll [16 May 1947]
[9] Moszkowski: Etude in A-flat, Op. 72 No. 11 [23 Feb 1957]
[10] Moszkowski: Etude in F, Op. 72 No. 6 [4 Mar 1930]
[11] Moszkowski: Étincelles, Op. 36 No. 6 [23 Apr 1951]**
[12] Chopin: Polonaise, Op. 53 [6 Oct 1945]
[13] Schumann: Träumerei, Op. 15 No. 7 [17 May 1950]
[14] Mendelssohn: Scherzo a capriccio [May 1980]**
[15] Liszt-Horowitz: Rakóczy March [17 May 1950]
[16] Liszt: Valse oubliée No. 1 [28 Apr 1951]
[17] Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 No. 5** [1 Nov 1981]
[18] Sousa-Horowitz: The Stars and Stripes Forever [23 Apr 1951]**

*Date of recording
**Live recording

Vladimir Horowitz, piano

RCA Gold Seal, 1990. Horowitz Collection. 69:11. Uncredited liner notes.


The only thing to be said against this supremely enjoyable album is that some of the recordings on it have since become available in better sound. For example, no fewer than four pieces [1, 11, 15, 17] can be found on Vladimir Horowitz: The Indispensable (1999) in decidedly cleaner sound with better dynamic range; the Rachmaninoff prelude, in particular, is strikingly improved. Nevertheless, the old sound, though rather dim and flat, is by no means bad enough to spoil an artistry of this calibre. One can also take issue with the selection – e.g. some of these pieces Horowitz certainly never played as encores [2, 12], others which he did might have been included instead (say, the finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata from 1953) – but this is sheer nitpicking.

In fact, this program is carefully chosen to illustrate the full scope of Horowitz at the keyboard. This is enormous! For miraculous delicacy and tenderness, hear Mendelssohn’s “Élégie”, Liszt’s “Valse oubliée No. 1” and Schumann’s “Träumerei”. For pure and light-hearted fun, Moszkowski’s trifles cannot be beaten, especially when played by such dexterous fingers. For a combination of great music and great musicianship, check Chopin’s ebullient Polonaise and Mendelssohn’s lovely (why nobody plays this gem?) “Scherzo a capriccio”. The former is one of the fastest on record (less than six minutes!), but what in lesser hands would have been unlistenable Horowitz makes irresistible.

Then there are those examples of Horowitzian bravura that have been butchered by countless mature virtuosos but would-be musicians ever since. The funny thing is not so much that Horowitz makes music where the youngsters (with the exception of Arcadi Volodos) make noise, but that here he is also transcriber, arranger and even composer himself. The famous “Carmen Variations” are virtually an original composition. Almost the same can be said of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” and especially “Rakóczy March”. Horowitz took the Liszt originals and made them his own. Two of these Horowitzian arrangements deserve special attention.

“The Stars and Stripes Forever”, which Horowitz transcribed as a token of gratitude for his US citizenship in 1944, makes the brass band original sound even more mediocre than it is. Frankly, the march is a noisy mess. Horowitz makes it sound like great music. It was one of his favourite encores in the late 1940s, but he never played it in later years because, he famously said, the audience was apt to forget the rest of the recital. This piano amnesia is regrettable, but the audience may be forgiven. Horowitz challenges every dusty dogma what two hands and 88 keys are capable of. Note that this is, not the well-known 1950 studio recording, but a much rarer live performance captured some four months later. The sound is notably more limited and there is no applause, but Horowitz vaporises the keyboard with his usual and unique authority. Horowitz collectors would love to have the whole disc for this piece alone.

“Danse macabre” is special for a number of reasons. It was one of the very few recordings that Horowitz made on the West Coast. It has a fantastic sound for 1942. It keeps fairly close to Liszt’s transcription, but Horowitz does touch it up here and there. And the performance! This is the SSS (Stars and Stripes Syndrome) again. To be sure, Saint-Saëns’ “Dance macabre” is an infinitely greater work than Sousa’s blatant march; and I do enjoy the orchestral original, especially when conducted by Arturo Toscanini. All the same, Horowitz makes it superfluous. He plays with incredible precision and truly orchestral sonority. This is surely one of the greatest piano recordings of all time. I really don’t know why it’s not more often included in “best of” selections. Horowitz never re-recorded it, and this is just as well. To improve on perfection is impossible.

I have said this about conductors, but I don’t mind repeating it about pianists. Give them a program of showpieces and you’ll see what metal they are made of. Give a tin pianist this encore album and watch, or rather hear, what happens. He will drag out the lyrical pieces and bang out of recognition the virtuoso warhorses. Give the same the same program to a golden pianist and you’re in for quite an adventure. Give it to a platinum pianist like Horowitz and you have a ticket to Piano Paradise. First class. One way. ( )
  Waldstein | Apr 13, 2017 |
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