Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vladimir Horowitz, Art Tatum, and a Gypsy Soprano - An Iconic Triune In the History of Recorded Music...

As a  musician, I have amassed a very large collection of audio and video recordings that are an overview of  a century of  a legacy of greatness of both composer and performer. From the Vorsetzer recordings of Grieg, Debussy, Ravel etc. to the latest Beethoven  revelations  by Leif Ove Andsnes, there are hundreds of discs, tapes, and CD's and videos scattered throughout the house.
A few  days ago a question fluttered across my mind's blackboard; specifically, "which two or three constitute the most unique recordings in my collection?"
Which set me to thinking about the 'detective' I  would have to become in order to decide upon two or three in my collection. And so I began the 'game', with the following results:
1. Rachmaninoff in 1926.
2. Art Tatum in 1932 and 1935.
3. Vladimir Horowitz in the mid-1980's.
There is a Gypsy Traditional tune from Mother Russia titled "Powder and Paint,' which was a favorite of a mezzo soprano named Plevitskaya, well-known a century ago. The legendary pianist and composer Rachmaninoff was enamored of her way of projecting folk tunes, and asked her to record a tune or two, with him as accompanist. The result is this recording of a saucy, fun-filled incarnation with the great Rachmaninoff enhancing the  accompaniment with his own piquant harmonies in improvised form. Do listen, and form your own opinion!
When I first heard Art Tatum's initial  recording (1932) of a tune titled "Tiger Rag," I was simply overwhelmed by the passages that  this titan dared me to believe  they were not figments of my imagination.
I then underwent an investigation, and found that Tatum had recorded it once again in 1935, which is indeed a better copy, projecting a stride bass technique that no pianist  has ever been able to equal, less replicate. Do be reminded that Tatum was legally blind.
When I bought the video titled "The Last Romantic,"  which centered around Vladimir Horowitz performing in his town house in New York just a few years before his passing in 1989, I was especially attracted to an event which lasted all of about 20 seconds, during which Horowitz made a stab at the pop tune "Tea for Two". The result was less than spectacular, except for an impish smile emanating from the Horowitz physiognomy. What immediately came to mind was that Horowitz, arguably the best player of the piano since Franz Liszt a century earlier, was an unabashed admirer of  Art Tatum, whose music was  not in any way understood by Horowitz. What Horowitz DID comprehend was  that this little, rather squat  player of the piano rivaled HIM, in terms of raw pianistic powers. The result, what with all of the apocryphal stories swirling around  these two- in absolute truth, Vladimir Horowitz was an unabashed admirer of Art Tatum, and the strange bedfellows developed  a relationship - to what degree of meaning, I am not sure.
Horowitz was mesmerized by Tatum's recording of  "Tea for Two" - hence that  little  shot at"Tea for Two" in the Horowitz video.
The question I have - I wonder if Horowitz ever got to hear  "Tiger Rag??"



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