Horowitz in Moscow
The return to his homeland in 1986 by the world’s most famous living instrumentalist after an absence of 61 years caught the public imagination. Some queued a week for tickets, and the 83-year-old Horowitz’s arrival in Moscow prompted the kind of reception reserved usually for pop stars. Brian Large’s Emmy Award-winning film captures all this well; but the meat, of course, is the playing.
What can one say? The very first bars of the Scarlatti B minor Sonata make you catch your breath, a small, crystalline sound imbued with emotion. Few have conjured from a piano such a palette of tonal colours with such convincing imagery and musical imagination as Horowitz does in this recital. The Mozart is witty and playful and if his Schubert and Chopin are, for my taste, somewhat fussy, with some Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin he is on home territory. This is the real thing. A truly great artist rises to the occasion and seems to speak for everyone in the hall, offering a healing balm for shared woes and unnamed sorrows. The audience listens with rapt concentration. A man sits motionless with tears streaming down his face in Träumerei. Unforgettable.
Sony’s presentation, however, leaves much to be desired. There is no booklet, nothing on the DVD about the music, pianist, date or venue, nothing to tell us that the museum Horowitz is seen visiting (part of the ‘interval feature’) was once Scriabin’s apartment, that the Bechstein on which he then plays belonged to the composer and that the elderly lady to whom he is introduced is Scriabin’s daughter, Yelena. All this was made clear in the BBC TV transmission at the time, with its linking commentary and far more intelligent editing, and which included extra footage of both the Scriabin visit and the engaging interview with Horowitz that is interspersed throughout the film. Verdict: terrific – but could and should have been much more terrific.