Sony has just released a new live CD featuring the great Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, calling it The Legendary Berlin Concert, 18th May, 1986. My first question upon receiving it was “why did Sony wait 25 years before putting this out?” (It is the complete concert, on 2 CDs)
Could it be because he was “the most difficult, most unapproachable, most ethereal, and craziest pianist of all time?” as mentioned in the booklet liner notes accompanying the new CD?
Horowitz was more than a pianist of supreme elegance. He was a link to a lost age of great Russian romanticism, grand and sweeping music that started in the late 19th century and continued into the first decades of the 20th: the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Scriabin. Horowitz was alive and was friends with many of the great Russian composers whose music he celebrated.
The first leg of this 1986 concert tour, made when Horowitz was 83 and just three years before his death, was a concert in Moscow, recorded and released shortly thereafter on CD and dvd by Deutsche Gramophon. The pianist hadn’t been to Russia in 61 years. You can hear the breathtaken audience’s strained silence between pieces, and you get the feeling that the lucky fans present are about to explode. The silence is deafening.
Horowitz went to Berlin two weeks later where he recorded the current CD. His sense of touch, his élan and flourish, are unmistakable. Horowitz, who loved smoking cigarettes and who ate a special kind of filet of sole while on tour—his contract provided for this dish—was in grand form. Whereas many people don’t make it into their 80’s, especially if they smoke, or are enfeebled by age, Horowitz gives the lie to this.
Listening to him playing his favorite pieces by Rachmaninov, Liszt, Scriabin, and Chopin, pieces he honed over a period of over seven decades, is an amazing—indeed breathtaking—experience.