BRAHMS:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 (recorded March 17, 1935).  Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 (two performances, Lucerne August 29, 1939/New York October 23, 1948)
Vladimir Horowitz, pianist/New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orch (1935, Concerto No. 1); Lucerne International Music Festival Orch (1939, Concerto No. 2); NBC Symphony Orch (1948, Concerto No. 2)/Arturo Toscanini, cond.

APPIAN APR 6001 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD)  TT:  127' 07" 
The fascinating notes that accompany APR's issue quote Horowitz as saying in 1987 (two years before his death) that he had heard a broadcast of his 1940 studio recording of the Brahms Second and asked himself why he ever did it.  " is not a concerto for me.. I never liked it very much and I played it so badly, and my ideas about the music were so different from Toscanini's...I didn't enjoy rehearsing this performance at all."  Of the D-minor concerto he said, "I admit its great message, but it is not my kind of music.  Rachmaninoff heard the 1935 broadcast issued here and telephoned Horowitz asking how he could ever play this "awful music."  It is "poorly orchestrated and poorly written for the piano."  In spite of this, Horowitz's performances were highly acclaimed at the time.  Hearing them now, particularly the D-minor which was only recently discovered, it is obvious from the beginning that Horowitz and his tempestuous father-in-law, Arturo Toscanini, didn't agree on many facets of interpretation -- and that Toscanini was the dominant force.  It was said that during rehearsals the undercurrent was "fear -- Horowitz's fear of Toscanini."

Horowitz learned the D-minor for Toscanini for three performances during a Brahms cycle his father-in-law  was planning for New York in 1935.  Performances were praised, and this CD set offers, for the first time, acetates of the broadcast.  I find listening to it a nerve-racking experience.  The atmosphere is demonic, the tension always apparent.  Tempi are brisk, with a total performance time of less than thirty-nine minutes, about eight minutes shorter than most performances today.  As one might expect under the circumstances,  Horowitz's fabled technique occasionally falters.  It must have been exciting to watch; however this is a performance that, although it commands respect for the power-houses involved, is primarily of historic interest.  Horowitz has more of a chance in his live 1936 recording with Bruno Walter (said to be the pianist's favorite conductor) and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (minus about four minutes of the first movement because of a damaged acetate). This once was available on the Italian Legend label (LGD 105, coupled with Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 with Horowitz/NYP/Walter), and doubtless will again be issued.

Horowitz learned the Concerto No. 2 a few years before the First.  He said the first time he heard both concertos was with Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Furtw”ngler and the Berlin Philharmonic --  although he didn't like the way Schnabel played them. Horowitz's first performance of the B-flat was in 1927 with the Hamburg Philharmonic conducted by Karl Muck to less than favorable reviews.  The following year he played it in Berlin with Furtw”ngler conducting, which was better received, although Horowitz said he despised the conductor.  His 1940 Victor recording with the NBC Symphony under Toscanini was made three days after the live performance heard on this CD. The live performance is already well known to collectors, currently available on several labels.  It is not as controlled as the studio recording, but infinitely superior to the August 1939 live recording from Lucerne, which was the first time the two performed it together.  Many leading musicians of the era were involved in the Lucerne Festival, including Casals, Walter, Serkin, Mengelberg, Feuermann, Huberman; Adolf Busch supplied string players, Ernest Ansermet wind and percussion sections.  Although well-received at the time, hearing it now the problems are apparent.  Again nervous tension abounds, and Toscanini's penchant for moving on is always a vital force.  The conductor's use of portamento  is something he avoided later in his career.  Horowitz plays with blistering intensity -- with more than a few notes dropping along the way.

This is a valuable document, not without its problems.  The First Concerto is plagued with a wow that is distressing to say the least; presumably there is no way to correct a problem like this with digital processing.  The Lucerne B-flat has acceptable sound for the period, and the later broadcast has excellent quality.  The CD back panel says the Op. 83 concerto is in "B minor," an unfortunate typo.  Piano aficionados  -- and those who follow the career of Horowitz -- surely will wish to investigate this 2-CD set, which sells for the price of a single CD.

R.E.B.(Nov. 2000)