Horowitz volume 1.
It's understandable that with a stature as legendary as that of Vladimir Horowitz--perhaps the superstar among the century's pianists--the misunderstandings run as thick as the clichés. Particularly in the period since World War II, with the ascendancy of "objective" schools of pianism, Horowitz was often dismissed as an oversized throwback to a kind of 19th-century, neurotically subjective stunt man of the keyboard. Indeed, descriptions of his high-voltage performances tend to evoke extreme meteorological activity, from tornadoes to volcanic eruptions. Yet at its best, the pianist's formidable--and unduplicated--virtuosity served to animate a composer's vision with harrowing intensity.
This first of Philips's three sets culled from the ample Horowitz discography focuses--in contrast to the second set--on a single composer, Schumann, for whom the pianist's deep-rooted affinity stretched across his career. There's the youthful bravura, stinging in its demonic energy, of the "Toccata" and "Traumeswirren" (recorded in the '30s), which Horowitz could still summon as a septuagenarian for the hair-raising "prestissimo possibile" of the rarely performed Sonata in F Minor ("Concert sans Orchestre"). One of Horowitz's great defining characteristics--the uniquely sinewy left hand--provides heft and color that must be heard to be believed in Schumann's great cycles Kreisleriana and the Humoreske, which benefit from the pianist's intuitive grasp of the composer's bipolar imagination. And if Horowitz seems synonymous with nothing more than technical fireworks, consider the breathtakingly distilled, rarefied, simple poetry of the account here of Kinderszenen, from one of the pianist's last concerts in 1987. --Thomas May