BBC Legends – Mieczyslaw Horszowski

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Casals
Prelude
Chopin
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58
Mazurkas – in B flat minor, Op.24/4 & in C, Op.56/2
Bach, transcribed Liszt
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV543
Mozart
Piano Sonata in F, K332
Villa-Lobos
A mare Encheu; Passa, Passa Gavião
Mendelssohn
Song without Words in C, Op.67/4 (Bee’s Wedding)

Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano)

Recorded at the Aldeburgh Festival – on 9 June 1984 (Casals & Chopin Sonata) & 21 June 1987


Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: March 2008
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
BBCL 4230-2
Duration: 77 minutes

The curio of this release featuring Mieczyslaw Horszowski is surely the opening item, a Prelude by the great cellist Pablo Casals. Lasting just under seven minutes, it is a work in which the influence of Bach is undeniable (at times it sounds like an arrangement of a Bach organ piece – thus the inclusion of Liszt’s Bach transcription makes good sense), but the harmonic language Casals uses is more wide-ranging than Bach had at his disposal. The work breathes commendable grandeur, amply projected by the pianist.

Horszowski’s Chopin is a thing of beauty. The two Mazurkas show Horszowski at his best. The first is brittle as can be yet noble at the same time, while the second (C major) is significantly more robust. Pedalling in both is exemplary and tiny finger-slips in the latter count for little.

Mieczyslaw HorszowskiIt is this love for the soundworld of Chopin that makes the B minor Sonata such a moving experience. Bryce Morrison, in his booklet note, identifies the measured speed for the opening movement, and points out the advantages thereof (clarity and space). The tempo for the scherzo is similarly on the deliberate side. The jewel-like touch points to a different agenda from the virtuoso antics the ‘modern’ ear has become accustomed to: Horszowski sees lyricism as being at the very heart of Chopin’s music, the Largo the core of Horszowski’s interpretation. Employing a minimal amount of pedal, Horszowski imbues the movement with a very human fragility. Single lines emerge as remarkably vocal cries of anguish; Arguably, only Mitsuko Uchida (on Philips) matches him here. The opening of the finale is almost orchestral, before clouds of unrest take over, and also the weakest movement technically, Horszowski at pains to maintain integrity of tone over note-perfect delivery, but momentum suffers resulting in a somewhat laboured close. A shame, as there is much to admire here, particularly in the Largo.

The Liszt transcription of Bach finds Horszowski painting a cathedral-like edifice in sound. It is a magnificent account, full of nobility (particularly the Prelude). The Fugue begins quietly – a peace full of confidence, replete with the possibilities of organic growth, expertly revealed by Horszowski.

Horszowski’s Mozart is also treasurable. The opening bars emerge as a breath of fresh air after the trials and travails of the Bach/Liszt. Horszowski delivers sublime clarity while underlining the depth of emotion of the music. The first movement could conceivably be linked to the world of opera buffa, but Horszowski has a seriousness of intent that is particularly evident in the Adagio, played with such eloquent poise, a poise the finale seeks to deny with its breathless semiquavers and jaunty contrasts.

Lovely to see some Villa-Lobos here. The first piece, ‘A Mare Encheu’ (The Tide Flowed), is unbearably melancholic; the more playful ‘Passa, Passa Gavião’ (Fly Away, Fly Away Hawk) is made of brighter colours; although suffering occasionally from technical hiccups, the pianist nevertheless captures to perfection Villa-Lobos’s individuality. The Mendelssohn is pure delight. I can only suggest an immediate purchase!

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