‘The first Horowitz recital….’

‘The first Horowitz recital….’


norman lebrecht

July 15, 2015

Marina Mdivani, a Georgian pianist and sometime student of Emil Gilels, has uncovered a rare and extraordinary review of Vladimir Horowitz in the early Soviet years. It is of three recitals that Horowitz gave on concecutive nights in 1924 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Marina sent the review to our friend Elijah Ho, who has translated it here.

Written by the musician and chess master Alexander Samoylovich Petrokovsky (1888-1948), the review begins:

The first Horowitz recital with his unforgettable “Don Juan” was enough to realize that this was a superstar: phenomenal technique, a gem of performance, scales, octaves, virtuoso passages – everything was amazing.

The Medtner of the second recital demonstrated that young Horowitz can play as an experienced artist, and that age is not a problem for a great talent.

The third recital – Liszt – revealed, once and for all, the most important, the most precious fact: Horowitz is not only an exceptional virtuoso, but also a profound poet who always has something to say. It was, in a way, a ‘Liszt renaissance’! The great musician came back to life and brought the soul’s poem to us with Horowitz magic.

That’s telling them. Read more here.

Elijah also reproduces a photo that Horowitz signed at the time for the enthusiastic reviewer.




  • Hilary says:

    The photograph is even more fascinating than the review.
    At a glance Horowitz looks like a very elegant young woman.

    Wanda Horowitz (his wife) was described by Rubenstein as being ‘as hard as stone’
    On the plus side, she had good political instincts (like her father) describing Reagan as being ‘a second rate actor, and second rate politician’

    • Neven P says:

      For more information about Horowitz’s young days, you should read Harold Schonberg’s biography. I have seen this photograph before – he cultivated a Chopinesque image in his youth, and only after he arrived to the U.S. his manager told him to adopt a more business like haircut, which he did. I remember reading this many years ago -as I said, for more information you should visit Mr. Schoenberg’s excellent book. There is another biography, slightly more controversial, written by Glenn Paskin. It touches on Horowitz’s homosexuality and propensity for cross-dressing in his youth. Horowitz’s was not a happy marriage. His relationship with Wanda was difficult at best, and they were never happy with each other. They had a daughter, Sonia, who led a troubled life and died at the age of 40. As said, if you are interested in the topic, you should go to directly the source.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    This is an amazing find, and wonderful to see from Elijah Ho. In addition, one might explore the many wonderful recordings available online of Marina Mdivani. A truly fine pianist in her own right, and 1961 winner of the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud International Concours du Piano. As for Mr. Horowitz, the striking resemblance to young Chopin was always an intriguing one. One might ponder: do the spirits and images return to some extent? An entirely different topic, for sure. As for his pianism, he joined the elite of Josef Lhevinne, Ignaz Friedman, Moritz Rosenthal, Sergei Rachmaninov, Vladimir de Pachmann and many others. Where they left off, Horowitz took the reign from the standpoint of pianism. Musically, he was always one to surprise us with twists and turns of a phrase, a change in dynamics, or lingering on a note one might not expect. Listening to him in a studio would have been an interesting experience. Two people who could certainly share about this would be David Dubal and Byron Janis. (Students of Adele Marcus, who also knew Mr. Horowitz, would probably join me in the fact that her playing was staggering, powerful, and beautiful in the teaching studio. Her nerves got the best of her in public, from what I have heard, although she probably did not have these issues in her early career when she won the Naumburg in 1928. Mr. Horowitz asked her, ‘HOW do you gyeet dees sound?? Mine God, tyell me vat you are doeeng!’)

    • Neven P says:

      Jeffrey, do not forget this the showbizz – it has nothing to do with spirits! He had a long hair because aspiring star pianists of the day were supposed to look like this (Liszt and Anton Rubinstein being the role models). The characteristics of his playing that you described are those of the old Russian 19th century school of piano playing (“…twists and turns of a phrase, a change in dynamics, or lingering on a note one might not expect.”), which does not exist any more. And yes, Horowitz took the mantle and was the last in the line of pianists that you mentioned (the only exception being de Pachmann, or “Chopinzee” as he was called, who never belonged to the same league as the rest. I only need to add that Josef Lhevinne’s technique was supposedly superior than that of Horowitz and Rachmaninoff, however, his nerves confined him to the teaching studio at Juilliard and he never achieved the same level of public recognition.

    • All Keyed Up says:

      You’ve told that Marcus-Horowitz story in this column before, but as you well know, absolutely no documentation exists to verify it. Also, Adele Marcus’ performing career was reasonably long, but quite modest – as no major conductor or orchestra ever engaged her. Plenty of reviews of her recitals can be found, but none are overly complimentary, and in fact Harold Schoenberg’s reviews of Marcus’ New York recitals are poor indeed. At her best, she was a capable pianist, but no more than that.

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        Her true career was in the teaching studio, although her style was not to fit all. But aside from that, and there will be naysayers of any teacher, if you just take into account the playing by itself, it cannot be denied that she possessed a huge gift of playing and how to achieve sound. At this, her studio teaching and master classes were formidable–take it or leave it. Certainly, our posts are to be inspiring and encouraging, rather than to poke negative comments toward each other. Life is too short. One cannot rely on old reviews if we were not present to decide for ourselves. Reviews die; artists die; what they imparted on others lives on. Legacy cannot be documented except in recordings.

  • Neven P says:

    An interesting to read, but not a surprising review. Thank you for bringing it to our attention Norman! As quoted by Schonberg, Horowitz stated that his superhuman technique was already developed by the time he was 15. The ability “to sing” came from sight-reading opera scores, which he did on regular basis since he was a child. It was apparent that he was destined to stardom by the time he graduated from Kiev Conservatory at the age of 17. The characteristics of his playing that made him considered as a throwback to the old, romantic 19th century school of piano playing may be related to the fact that he was educated at the provincial conservatory. Had he studied in Moscow, perhaps he would have encountered more modern tendencies in interpretation. As said, I enjoyed reading the review and thank you very much for posting it!

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      Good points, Neven. One thing I had admired about his playing was that it had freedom, but never sounded awkward, with hands never together or overly mannered. He was a very creative re-creative artist. I respected how he went on stage and played like he did, knowing the stakes were always so high because of his fame. It scares me when asking young pianists today if they knew him and his playing. When they say ‘no’, that is frightening.

  • Vince says:

    He looked very similar to Alan Cumming, gay film actor.