RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 
Vladimir Horowitz, pianist/New York Philharmonic Orch/Sir John Barbirolli, cond.
Appian APR 5519 (F) (ADD) TT: 65:59  

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
Vladimir Horowitz, pianist/Hollywood Bowl Orch/Serge Koussevitzky, cond. (Rachmaninoff); William Steinberg, cond. (Tchaikovsky)
Music & Arts CD 4963 (F) (AAD) TT: 71:15

Vladimir Horowitz made the Rachmaninoff Third his own and here we have documentation of two of his live performances, both coupled with the other specialty of his, the Tchaikovsky First, both recorded about a decade apart, the Barbirolli performances dating from 1940/41, the others from 1949/50. About the time of the latter I had the experience of live performances of both concertos with Horowitz and the Chicago Symphony, the Tchaikovsky conducted by Désiré Défauw, the Rachmaninoff by Artur Rodzinski, just a few weeks before Rodzinski was forced to leave the CSO. Youthful remembrances remain, the Tchaikovsky marred by horn bloopers on the first three notes of the opening, the Rachmaninoff having demonic intensity. At this concert Horowitz came on stage, sat down and then pulled the piano over to him! Always a showman of the first caliber, this was during his heyday, and he did not disappoint.

The New York performances on this Appian CD are quite unbelievable, the dexterity amazing, and there is no question of the spectacular pianism--no one else has played this concerto with the fire and virtuosity heard here. But, for repeated listening, the Rachmaninoff is TOO whirlwind. The last movement cadenza, just before the grand final statement of the principal theme, is played so fast it sounds haphazard, and the final statement is so fast it misses its grandeur. Of course the final octaves are dazzling, the audience reaction the expected--and deserved--tumultuous ovation. Tchaikovsky's First is a known item in Horowitz's repertoire ever since RCA released his NBC Symphony/Toscanini 1941 commercial recording, and the 1943 Carnegie Hall War Bond live recording with the same conductor and orchestra. The just-released Barbirolli/New York performance is equally impassioned and the octaves are stunning--can anyone really play octaves THAT fast? The answer is "yes."

Tchaikovsky's First is also featured on the Music & Arts CD and, as we already have live recordings of this conducted by Barbirolli and Toscanini (and others currently unavailable conducted by George Szell and Bruno Walter), the M&A reissue is perhaps not that important. However, it is of enormous interest for its companion, the Rachmaninoff Third conducted by Serge Koussevitzky recorded with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in August of 1950. The Russian conductor seemed to have more control over Horowitz than any conductor other than Toscanini, and Koussevitzky had his own ideas on how the concerto should sound. His accompaniment is broad and full of detail often glossed over. Horowitz seems to be a bit on edge in this performance with more finger-slips than usual (although not as many as in his pioneering 1930 recording with the LSO/Albert Coates). Horowitz makes a 6-bar cut in the finale that he has not, to my knowledge, made before, along with the usual cuts made in performances of the time and, as always, plays the lighter first-movement cadenza. The final chords are intriguing--Horowitz must have used incredible self control to adjust to Koussevitzky's deliberate tempo, but he managed. Horowitz could have gone his own way as he did at his American debut with the NYP under Sir Thomas Beecham playing the Tchaikovsky. It is reported that the two couldn't agree on tempi and Horowitz ended the concerto some seconds before the orchestra; apparently Horowitz had more respect for his fellow Russian than he did for the British baronet.

Both of these CDs are essential for those who admire Horowitz. The sound is dated, particularly in the Hollywood Bowl Tchaikovsky, but more than adequate to convey these historic performances.

  R.E.B. (NOV. 1999)