Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vladimir Horowitz. Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No. 1 / Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s installment of Once Upon the Internet brings us back to the Italian Public Domain siteLiberMusica, for a pair of concerti featuring Vladimir Horowitz, his Father-in-Law Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra.

The source pages from the Italian site don’t clearly identify the performances – a search on the Web using the title of the source album strongly suggests that the tracks come from a Classica D'oro recording which, according to AllMusic.com, was a March 2001 remastered reissue of 1940’s recordings of these concerti. There is a plethora of digitally restored albums reissuing these well-travelled recordings, notably a Naxos Historical recording which has the benefit of copious background and technical notes.

According to these excellent notes (excerpts liberally rearranged):

Vladimir Horowitz held a singular place in twentieth-century music. He was both an international celebrity and serious artist whose performances and recordings were anxiously anticipated and widely discussed. His recordings of Brahms's Second Concerto (1940) and Tchaikovsky's First Concerto (1941) are among the most influential piano recordings ever produced and they helped to propel his career into the 1940s and beyond.

Perhaps through a combination of dutiful compliance to his wife and Toscanini’s renowned indomitable will, Horowitz always remained far more in awe of his father-in-law, at least when in his company, both socially and musically. Referring to the Brahms concerto recording, he famously remarked at a later time, "Toscanini had his own conception, and I followed it, even if it was sometimes against my own wishes."

Horowitz's May 6, 1940 performance of the [Brahms] B-Flat Concerto in New York was a sensation. The event was an all-Brahms charity concert at Carnegie Hall with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. New York Times' critic Olin Downes wrote that "Mr. Horowitz played what is probably the greatest of piano concertos with all the sincerity, the virility and fire of his young heart, and the abundant virtuosity and power which are phenomenally at his command, and...one ventures to say that this was playing of a breadth, a masculinity, a poetry and withal a heroic spirit which would have satisfied the composer." Downes reported the audience to have applauded each movement and cheered at the end. On May 9 he recorded the concerto at the RCA Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey. [Blogger's Note: some other sources claim the recording venue was Carnegie Hall]

The Brahms recording hit the shops and was an enormous commercial and critical success. RCA Victor executives were thus anxious to follow up the Brahms with Horowitz's showpiece, Tchaikovsky's First Concerto. In 1941 Americans had long been familiar with Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, and with Horowitz's interpretation of it. Horowitz had made the concerto a central part of his repertoire early in his career.

On 19 April 1941 Horowitz played the concerto with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra at an all-Tchaikovsky concert at Carnegie Hall, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the famous auditorium. Noel Straus, writing in the New York Times, called Horowitz's playing "brilliant, poetic and vital...a truly stupendous exhibition of pianism, as emotionally expansive as it was amazing in its tonal hues and subtlety of nuance." Once again, the studio recording took place a few days later and, as with the Brahms, the Horowitz-Toscanini version quickly became the one to own.
For many music lovers the 1941 recording of the Tchaikovsky, long available on 78-rpm discs and later on vinyl LPs, is one of the very Romantic interpretations of the concerto and it is an absolute treasure.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, op. 83

Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, op. 23 [TH 55]

Vladimir Horowitz, piano
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini. Conducting
Recorded 9th May, 1940 (Brahms), and 14th May, 1941 (Tchaikovsky) in Carnegie Hall, New York City

Source album: Classica d'Oro 3001

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/051.AllegroNonTroppoEMoltoMae

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