Blue Note

Jason Serinus
2 min read
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Last year marked the centennial of the birth of Vladimir Horowitz, often considered the last great exponent of the Russian tradition of romantic pianism. Born in Kiev, Horowitz was all of nine when, as a recently enrolled student in the Kiev Conservatory, he snuck into a sold-out recital by the great pianist Josef Hoffmann and hid in a dark corner spellbound. Almost 74 years later, after an absence of 61 years, he returned to Russia to play for an equally spellbound audience. It was a triumphant homecoming, the culmination of a career that ended three years later with his sudden death.

To celebrate Horowitz's centennial, Sony Classical has issued this priceless set, documenting Horowitz's 1965 return to the concert hall after 12 years of isolation, which qualifies as one of the finest sounding recordings of Horowitz's artistry. Not only does Sony's Direct Stream Digital processing deliver superior sound, but bypassing studio edits has enabled a return to the original three-track analog tapes. As a result, we hear far more of the wealth of color that made the man's playing so extraordinary.

Other labels have joined in the Horowitz celebration. RCA offers Horowitz Rediscovered, the first time the pianist's entire live Carnegie Hall Recital of Nov. 16, 1975 has been issued in complete and unedited form. DG follows suit with The Magic of Horowitz. This two-disc set from the master's final years includes a bonus DVD-Video which documents the making of Horowitz's final Mozart concerto recording; music from the triumphant 1986 Leningrad return concert; plus three previously unreleased performances.

Each label includes a live version of Schumann's “Träumerei.” To these ears, the slowest, from Carnegie 1965, is the most eloquent, with Horowitz seeming to ruminate over every note, frequently whispering sounds as if suspended in a dream state. To contrast this with the enlivened sparkle of Moszkowski's Étincelles or the soul-shaking intensity of Chopin's Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor (both 1975) offers a stunning introduction to the man's greatness.

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