Sunday, April 20, 2008

"He Ate My Concerto Whole" - Does This Recording Certify That Statement?

In 1928, a 24 year-old pianist by the name of Vladimir Horowitz, just days after his first arrival in America, visited his hero , Sergei Rachmaninoff for the first time, in New York City.
Rachmaninoff, arguably the greatest pianist of his time, remarked to Horowitz that he had heard of the sensation the young pianist had created in the playing of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto in England and Germany, and was most interested in hearing what this young lion had discovered in his Concerto; so, upon Rachmaninoff's suggestion, the two cabbed down to Steinway's, sat down at two pianos, and Horowitz performed the 3rd with the composer playing the orchestral part on his chosen piano.
This is where Rachmaninoff uttered his famous statement "Horowitz swallowed my Concerto whole" after their performance was completed. Interestingly, Rachmaninoff vowed never to play his 3rd Concerto publicly again, after hearing Horowitz. He broke his pledge when in the early forties, Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, which may have had the best string section of all the major orchestras of the time, asked the composer to record all four concertos he had written, and Rachmaninoff agreed. The recordings can be heard.
Why I bring all this up now is that I recently came across a 1956 recording of Horowitz performing the Rachmaninoff 3rd with Reiner and the RCA Symphony Orchestra.
Now, there are several recordings of Horowitz playing this concerto, starting with one done in London while still in his twenties, and ending with a 1978 recording.
I must tell you that this 1956 recording is one of such intensity and fire, and at a pitch of excitement rarely experienced by this writer (quite evident that Horowitz was having an exceedingly good day!) , that this recording MUST have come close to what Rachmaninoff had experienced twenty eight years before in Steinway's in New York.
Horowitz devours the material, making this gargantuan composition "a tiny, tiny Concerto" ( a quip by Brahms, in his description of his own First Concerto, also a piece of immense dimension and proportion).
Search for this particular recording of the Rachmaninoff Concerto. I am confident that it will draw you into this powerful maelstrom of statement, the equal of which is impossible to imagine.

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