New on-line: Horowitz in Moscow, 1986

New on-line: Horowitz in Moscow, 1986


norman lebrecht

February 15, 2021

Ignore the hype and the main talking head.

Just listen.

There’s expert commentary from Trifonov and Argerich. ‘Best Mazurkas ever,’ says Martha.



  • JussiB says:

    It’s a PBS documentary of the historic 1986 Moscow concert, not the concert itself. Still nice!

    Anyone seen the recent PBS documentary of China’s Covid coverup?

  • A.L. says:

    What an unbelievably amazing concert that was! His playing then had a potent spiritual quality to it. Besides, the audience (and the rest of us through the recording) knew they were in the privileged presence of one of the last exponents of the 19th century Romantic tradition of piano playing.

    • Rogerio says:

      Here’s what I fail to understand;
      People talk of young, promising musicians of today – pianists, violinists, etc. – and will usually say “they all sound alike”. Well I suppose they don’t sound like “the last exponents of the 19th century Romantic tradition”. Than who are they trying to sound like? Who are they being trained to sound like? To randomly sound like each-other?
      I can’t help but get the idea that people like those here that peacock their love and admiration of Horowitz simply don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
      That being said, I was in Berlin in 1925 when Horowitz made his debut outside of Russia. I was left speechless by the tone colour he exhibited in his rendition of Scriabin’s Étude in D-sharp minor.

      • RW2013 says:

        You must be very old.

      • We privatize your value says:

        Rogerio, if you were, say, ten years old in 1925 (and I suppose that this is a minimum, because not many ten-year-olds can appreciate tone colour in a Scriabin rendition), you will turn 106 this year. Although it is statistically possible, it really seems very improbable. Do you mind if I call you a liar?

        • Rogerio says:

          I was a highwayman
          Along the coach roads I did ride
          With sword and pistol by my side
          Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade
          Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade
          The bastards hung me in the spring of ’25
          But I am still alive.

          Sir, from you, I mind nothing. Please proceed!

      • sam says:

        Congratulations, 104 years old!

      • mary says:

        I was in Moscow in 1887 when Scriabin wrote his Étude in D-sharp minor, we were both 23, so young and so in love…

        • Rogerio says:

          I remember as if it were yesterday.
          I begged your father the Duke to introduce us but he had me flogged instead!

      • Paul Carlile says:

        Well, however old you must be, i can add that my Mother and my Uncle, both keen amateurs, heard Horowitz’s London début and subsequent concerts thru the years with strong memories of marvellous sound, colors, poetry and touch….. I’m not so surprised that this could have influenced a young admirer for ever.
        Even if much of this original quality was later lost thru illness, obsessions, complexes, poor recorded sound…… VH remains one of the most fascinating artists of his century.

  • MacroV says:

    I don’t know if it was a great performance, but it was a great event. In the United States it was carried live on CBS Sunday Morning (then and now the best show on American television), hosted by the late, great Charles Kuralt.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    Take a break from Gelb bashing for once: the background information he shares is very interesting. I don’t want to think of the carbon footprint of Horowitz’ s 1980s trips to Europe.

    But if we want to listen to Horowitz, this is a pretty lousy clip, with all the talk over the music. Moreover, am I alone in thinking there are far better recordings from the last few years of his life?

    • Piano man says:

      The “Dover sole airlift” aside, which was only necessary in Russia, Horowitz’ carbon footprint was probably not that high. He seldom played more than 20 concerts a year after 1965. When touring, he would travel to a city, stay there for a week, then move on to the next city – as was common in the old pre-flight days. Contrast that with contemporary pre-COVID musicians who fly to their performing location, play the concert, fly home, then fly to the next venue, then fly home, etc. So Horowitz’ carbon footprint was probably considerably smaller than, say Rubinstein’s, who was playing 100 concerts a year until he was nearly ninety. Not that people worried about carbon footprints back then.

      As for the documentary, it’s the typical PBS fodder to help drive subscriptions, no doubt aided by the folks at DG. I found Argerich’s and Trifonov’s comments very perceptive. The truly great pianists understood what Horowitz was doing, unlike the jealous 3rd raters. Gelb is Gelb.

    • JussiB says:

      Horowitz’s final recording for Sony is far better and deeper (Haydn, Chopin, and Wagner-Liszt Liebestod). This Moscow program is more popular but equally memorable.

  • SMH says:

    Bombastic and cluttered.

  • Uncle Sam says:

    I’d like to provide some context, explaining the seemingly overly emotional reaction of many people who, like myself, were born and grew in the Soviet Union to the Schumann’s Traumerei: That particular piece (usually – in a choral arrangement) was being performed there for many years starting from 1965 on every major radio and TV station in the country on May 9th (the Victory Day) a few minutes before the traditional nationwide Minute of Silence at 7pm in memory of 27 million(!) Soviet people lost during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 (World War II). So for practically everybody in Soviet Union at the time of that concert Traumerei was associated with that solemn and sad occasion and the thoughts of the enormous national tragedy that touched practically every family. Hence – the tears…
    Here’s one of those annual rituals on Russian TV a few years ago – with Traumerei beginning at 1:30. The translation of one particularly poignant line from the text read by the announcer (at 4:48): “Soldier! You, who had lost your own relatives in Stalin’s GULAG, brought freedom to prisoners of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau…”

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I was fortunate to hear Horowitz three times in person during the last years of his performing career, as well as watching this Moscow recital on television. It was charming that each time at the end, without milking applause he would sit back down, play three encores in a row, the second of which was ‘Traumerei’, and then depart. Except once when (in Bloomington), he came back and played a fourth.

  • Patricia says:

    There was a club in NYC called “Studio 54.” It was where the nouveau riche and odious young went to dance and buy drugs. There was a photograph in the paper of Horowitz dancing it up with the kiddies. He looked ridiculous. My advisor, a conservatory trained pianist, looked at it and said, “The old goat.”

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Thanks, the story about ambassadors and the dover sole / asparagus is quite amusing. Gelb is less funereal here than you sometimes see him

  • M2N2K says:

    His mastery of Romantic repertoire is not a surprise to any of us, but what impressed me most when I saw this program a few weeks ago on PBS was how exquisitely sensitive and gorgeously expressive he sounded in Mozart – absolutely superb!

    • Patricia says:

      I’d rather hear Robert Levin play Mozart.
      Mozart was not a Romantic composer, although too many pianists and conductors of Horovitiz’s generation performed him as if he was.

      • M2N2K says:

        Of course W.A.Mozart was not a “Romantic” composer, but in music, like in many other artistic endeavors, far more often depends on HOW something is done than on WHAT. In this case, Vladimir Horowitz did indeed manage to “romanticize” the Sonata – particularly its slow middle movement, but he performed it in such a tasteful and delicate way that we the listeners are able to discover truly romantic musical content where most of us did not hear it before, and he did all this while beautifully communicating it to the audiences in a powerful and fully convincing fashion. For me personally, such “incorrect” but superb interpretations are usually preferable to those whose best feature is that they are conventionally “authentic”.

  • french horn says:

    Horowitz is from Ukraine, not Russia !

    • M2N2K says:

      First of all, he *was* – not “is”; and secondly, since at the time of Horowitz’s birth and childhood Ukraine was not a separate country but a part of Russian (and during the rest of his life a part of Russian-dominated Soviet) Empire (which in a way, it still is to a certain extent), your “correcting” exclamation is a gross overreaction.

  • IP says:

    I don’t get the idea. They take bits out of a concert that we all know and treasure, and they have people interrupt the music with little contributions of benign nonsense.

  • Douglas says:

    A few points.
    It would have been better if Peter Gelb had said he was talking about the “most famous” rather than the “greatest” pianist. I find it amazing that people can still talk in that way.

    I am reminded again, on hearing of all the shenanigans involved in anything to do with Horowitz, of one music (RCA/Sony/CBS?) manager – can’t find the reference but it is buried somewhere in Glenn Plaskin’s detailed biography. The pianist had moved from one company to the other (or back again) and a terse statement was issued by the “losing” side – something to the effect of “Having looked after Mr Horowitz’s many and various needs over X number of years we feel we have done our bit for the musical public”.

    I watched the broadcast live at the time and it made a very big impression on me. A couple of details here seem different *BOREDOM ALERT*). I thought the Dover sole was flown in from Paris, not London, on a daily basis. And the pictures of Horowitz’s piano being moved don’t show it actually being taken out through the window of his upper east side apartment; it looks as if it’s being taken simply from Steinway Hall (I did skip bits as I know the concert very well, maybe I missed it?)

    The commentary on BBC television at the time was first class and I remember 2 things. Being reminded that Horowitz was playing something by his old friend Rachmaninov as he began the opening figures of the Prelude Op 32/5 in G major was quite moving.

    And regarding Scarlatti we were told that Horowitz had said that S. may have written for the Queen of Spain but he speaks to the public and “I play to the public”. And yes, it is right to play him on the piano – “Chopin said so!”

  • Paul Carlile says:

    When any Horowitz item appears on SD i expect at least two elements to surface on the comments thread.
    1) The obligatory self-congratulatory anecdote from Jeffrey Biegel explaining how Horowitz is his spiritual father (etc), thru his teacher’s teacher’s teacher/agent’s agent’s agent…..(etc).

    2) The obligatory aggressive/provocative remark: “Not a Horowitz fan, let the downvotes start” from G Bottini.” (“Woof woof,” -in case he’s forgotten!)

    C’mon, fellas, where are you?

    I’d already seen this documentary, but it’s wonderful to see again and appreciate the Russian audience’s emotion.
    Having Q’d all nite round the block myself a couple of times for his later-life appearances i can well understand these sentiments.

    The mazurkas are indeed among the most individual; Martha recognised something there of a kindred spirit.

  • JussiB says:

    Trifonov totally ruined the ending of Traumerei. STFU!

    • M2N2K says:

      The fault if any for that misfortune probably lies with those who edited the film rather than with the commenting pianists who are shown in it.