Horowitz - Complete Original Jacket Collection
I first heard Vladimir Horowitz when I was four years old – so my mother told me. Among my parents’ eclectic collection of discs was a 45rpm 7-inch recording of Horowitz playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 6. You changed sides halfway through. I used to skip the slow bit on side two because I couldn’t wait for the thrilling repeated-note finale. This was the recording that started my lifelong love affair with the piano, and I still think it is one of the most exhilarating of all piano recordings. Goodness knows how many times I played it during my childhood and subsequently. I managed to hear the great man live only twice, but got to shake his hand. So Horowitz for me, like countless others, has always been my pianistic god – a fallible deity, to be sure, but a paragon in terms of tonal colouring, technical brilliance, musical imagination and the ability to astonish and move audiences in equal measure. For younger readers it is difficult to explain just how celebrated Horowitz was. He died in 1989 but for many pianists his playing of certain composers and works remains the model to aspire to. He is still a palpable influence. “Horowitzian” is a well-worn adjective in these pages.
The “Original Jacket Collection” is a joint venture between Sony and RCA. The 70 CDs contain most of Horowitz’s American recordings issued on the RCA, Columbia, CBS and Sony labels between 1928 and 1989 (so no HMV or Deutsche Grammophon). Each disc is a facsimile of the original LP packaging including sleeve-notes (in microscopic typeface) but not the essays that came with LP box sets. My initial reaction was of open-jawed amazement – all these old friends from my teenage years and beyond in miniaturised form. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautifully produced and stunningly designed set of recordings. On closer inspection, however, all is not quite what it seems – and there are aspects of the project that could have been done better.
Space precludes an appraisal of the performances on all 70 discs. These have, in any case, been well covered in these pages over the years. I suggest a visit to the Gramophone archive (www.gramophone.net). Horowitz collectors will have most of these recordings, with their more than 440 separate titles, but not the two complete recitals given on March 5, 1951, and November 12, 1967. These are previously unreleased (except for two short works from each concert) and include a Prokofiev Sonata No 7 and Chopin’s Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op 26 No 1. The 1976 “Concert of the Century” celebrating the 85th anniversary of Carnegie Hall with Bernstein, Rostropovich, Fischer-Dieskau et al is here, as well as “The Young Horowitz” LP back in the catalogue with the earliest American recordings and Kabalevsky’s Sonata No 3. Omitted are the recently published recordings of Schumann’s Fantaisie (1946), Balakirev’s Islamey and Liszt’s St Francis Walking on the Water (both revised by Horowitz and new to his discography), and other still-unreleased performances such as the Kreisler-Rachmaninov Liebesleid.
Inevitably, there is much duplication of repertoire, reflecting Horowitz’s own musical preference over the years – two Mussorgsky Pictures, the two Tchaikovsky Firsts with Toscanini, two Rach Threes (the glorious 1951 version with Reiner and the unfortunate 1978 travesty with Ormandy), four Kinderszenens and, an extreme example, Debussy’s Serenade for the Doll, which appears six times. The historic 1965 “Carnegie Hall Return Concert” appears on CDs 42a/b and 57a/b, one version edited for clinkers, the other not. Buyers should be aware that these are not 70 CDs with 70- or even 60-plus minutes of music, inevitable if the producers were to preserve the integrity of the original LP format. Six discs have less than 30 minutes of music on them, sixty of them less than 50 minutes. The transfers appear to be the same as those previously released on CD.
The presentation is a disappointment. Try as I might I cannot work out the criterion for how the collection has been ordered – and the classy-looking (CD size) 200-page hardback booklet doesn’t help. 145 pages are taken up with track listings (left hand page) and, quite redundantly, each album cover in black-and-white (right hand page). These are followed by a brisk and sometimes contentious canter through Horowitz’s recorded legacy written by reissue producer Jon M Samuels. There is no chronological list of recordings, nor any means of looking up a composer or piece of music to see which work Horowitz recorded when. An appendix with appropriate CD numbers would have been a simple and beneficial addition. Recording details for CD 2 are missing and a number of typos could have been eliminated with closer proof-reading.