This is a unique chance to hear Vladimir Horowitz as "live" and clear as possible, given the quality of these recordings from the late '40s. They are engineered so that Horowitz's piano is very clear, even if there is some background noise, a completely forgivable flaw. The legendary pianist performs his own arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition with an incredible range of emotions and give-it-his-all energy. The brass-like fanfare is played perfectly, very stirring and majestic with a strong emphasis on the chords. There are more chords, even more formidable, in "Gnomus." A dark melancholy pervades "Il vecchio castello," and the listener can tell that Horowitz is very connected to the music. Each promenade is grand, as though one were strolling through the Hermitage, perhaps, and Mussorgsky creates an interesting variation in the minor-key "Promenade" halfway through the piece. "Tuileries" is playful and intimate, a stark contrast to the heavy, vertical, almost banged "Bydlo." But of course, Horowitz is capable of great levity, as in the superb "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks," where one can virtually see baby chicks dancing about. The accelerandi in this movement are absolutely perfect (the sign of a virtuoso). Eager fans of Horowitz may be anticipating what comes in "Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga)" his trademark whole-body playing that makes use of the entire instrument in a way that gives the listener goose bumps. The conclusion of the work is full of rousing emotion, and yet there is a humble, almost religious passage that Horowitz plays with reverent simplicity. The second work on the album is Liszt's Sonata for Piano in B minor S. 178. It is a fantastic pairing of a genius composer with a genius musician. Horowitz captures Liszt's fire, alternating it with care and tenderness (such as in the upper register, with its intimate, blooming notes) in the first movement. It's intriguing to listen to how Horowitz builds intensity and then lets it go, engaging, almost teasing the listener. The cascades down the piano in the second movement are enticing, and Horowitz makes every note count in tender phrases. The final movement of the sonata sounds vaguely fugal, with intertwining lines. Then, it gallops into trademark Liszt, with violent passion, with trademark Horowitz, using the whole piano. The pianist's fast runs are fluid perfection, and every nuance is observed and phrased. Though the world lost Horowitz quite some time ago, he lives on through wonderful recordings like these.
AllMusic Review by V. Vasan
|Pictures at an Exhibition|
|Sonata for Piano in B minor, S. 178|