Buried Treasure: Horowitz Recital Sparkles On DG

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Horowitz: Return to Chicago — SCARLATTI: Sonata in E Major, K. 380; Sonata in E Major, K. 135;  MOZART: Adagio in B Minor, K. 540; Rondo in D Major, K. 485; Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330; SCRIABIN: Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 2, No. 1; Etude in D-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12; SCHUMANN: Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18; Träumerei, Op. 15, No. 7; LISZT: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca; Soirées de Vienne No. 6; CHOPIN: Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 63, No. 3; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 7, No. 3; Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20; MOSZKOWSKI: Etincelles, Op. 36, No. 6; BONUS: Two Radio Interviews, 1986 and 1974. Vladimir Horowitz, piano. DG 479 4649 (2 CDs). Downloadable at iTunes.

By Gary Lemco

DIGITAL REVIEW — The legendary Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) remained quite fond of Chicago, having visited the city 37 times between 1928 and 1986, claiming it had accorded him early respect for his especial virtuosity. Horowitz also courted Chicago for personal reasons: he had a long relationship with pianist-pedagogue Gitta Gradova (nee Weinstock), who died in 1985, aged 81. Both artists had enjoyed the esteemed friendship of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Vladimir Horowitz DG release, Return to Chicago (DG)Wishing to bequeath Chicago a lasting document of his affection, Horowitz granted WFMT free access to record his recital on Oct. 26, 1986, which featured the same repertory he had played in Boston a week earlier. Aired once, the tape had been stored in the radio station’s vaults until 2013, when editor Jon Samuels — in collaboration with Byron Janis — resurrected this testament to the “Indian summer” of Horowitz’s late style.

He begins with the immediately sparkling assets in his arsenal by performing two works in E Major by Scarlatti, examples of poised symmetry and elegant fluency of line. K. 380 asks for delicately martial figures in echo effects, which Horowitz neatly balances between mezzo-piano and piano dynamics. The purling legatos Horowitz conjures create a meditative intimacy of projection, unfortunately marred by off-the-beat coughing fits from admirers. The equally pensive K. 135 involves pert syncopations and brilliant runs, often executed with music-box sonority. When Horowitz projects a hard patina — as he often did in Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Scriabin — one has to wonder if his piano technician had lacquered the instrument’s hammers.

Vladimir Horowitz in 1986 (Wiki)
Pianist Vladimir Horowitz in 1986. (Dutch National Archives)

Horowitz next approaches Mozart with the highly emotional Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, an independent study in sonata form whose audacious, chromatic modulations bespeak debts to the Bach family and to the emergent Sturm und Drang sensibility. Through the series of dissonant suspensions and diminished sevenths, Horowitz remains focused on maintaining the pathos. For dynamic juxtaposition, Horowitz performs the spry 1786 Rondo in D Major, K. 485, after a tune by J. C. Bach. A deceptively titled work, given its sonata form, it invokes from Horowitz the light touch, a bravura music box that occasionally sounds in minor keys and in A Major.

Horowitz concludes the Mozart group with his preferred 1783 Sonata in C, K. 330, possibly in his most successful recorded rendition. That Horowitz had rebuilt his technique for this repertory becomes quite apparent in the finesse of his 32nd notes and seamless alternation of legato and staccato motives in the opening Allegro moderato. He makes the piano meditate persuasively in the F Major Andante cantabile, then moves confidently into the Allegretto, whose dotted-eighth rhythmic kernel leaps with the same impish fluency heard in Scarlatti.

Program book for Horowitz' final Chicago recital, Oct. 23, 1986 (CSO Archives)
Oct. 26, 1986 recital program (Chicago Symphony Archives)

Except for the Chopin Mazurka, Op. 63, No. 3, and the Schumann Arabeske in C — new to the DG Horowitz legacy — the pianist revisits old flames from his distinguished repertory. Ardent, romantic yearning permeates the two Scriabin entries, but the chromatic flame that infiltrates the D-sharp minor Etude exacts a grip upon us long after the last chords. Nostalgic Schumann is followed by poetic and stylistic Liszt, especially the reminiscence pastiche Soirées de Vienne, based on Schubert waltzes, to which Horowitz returned with renewed, delicate energy in his various recitals.

I have always credited Horowitz with more stylish execution of Chopin mazurkas and natural tęsknota (aching nostalgia) than I grant Artur Rubinstein. While the mighty B minor Scherzo has its occasional finger slip or digital knot, the emotional, dramatic shape and lyrical persuasiveness of the central Noel are completely convincing. After the ubiquitous Schumann Dreams, the skittish Moszkowski Sparks sound a fond farewell to a beloved venue from a self-proclaimed “priest of music.”

Two interviews follow: with Norman Pellegrini of WFMT (Oct. 25, 1986) and critic Thomas Willis (Oct. 30, 1974), intended as intermission features for the original broadcast. With Willis, Horowitz explored his acquaintance with Prokofiev, whom he knew in Paris, and the music of Clementi, whose “school of dexterity and sonority” Horowitz admired. And Horowitz credited his own singing tone and musicality to his love of the voice and song; he attested to owning more opera and vocal recordings than anything else, because they taught him to make his keyboard sing.

Gary Lemco hosts The Music Treasury on KZSU-FM, Stanford, streamed at kzsulive.stanford.edu Thursdays 7-9 p.m. (PST).

Clip from DG;s YouTube trailer