Various forms of the records-that-changed-my-life meme have been making the rounds lately, so I came up with my own version, which I call “The Twenty-Five Record Albums That Changed My Life.” Throughout the coming month, I’ll write about one of these albums every weekday in the order in which I first heard them:2. Horowitz in Concert: Recorded at His 1966 Carnegie Hall Recitals (Columbia) The public library in Smalltown, U.S.A., had a modest selection of classical albums that patrons in good standing were permitted to check out and take home. One of them was this two-disc set of “live” recordings (which were in truth extensively edited after the fact in the studio, but what did I know?) by Vladimir Horowitz, the first important classical-music instrumentalist whose playing I got to know well. Horowitz in Concert contained a wide-ranging selection of piano pieces, including sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, and Scriabin and shorter works by Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Debussy. It happens that CBS had telecast a prime-time recital by Horowitz in 1968. Though neither of my parents cared for classical music, they let me watch Vladimir Horowitz: A Television Concert at Carnegie Hall in our living room, an act of altruism for which I will forever be grateful. I had no idea that the piano could be played that way, and I was stupefied (no other word is strong enough) by Horowitz’s seemingly limitless virtuosity. Alas, it was not yet possible to tape TV shows and watch them again at leisure, so I had to make do with my memories, as well as with Horowitz in Concert, which I checked out more times than any other album. Listening to it taught me what it means to be a great performer—and no matter whether you “like” Horowitz’s style of playing, there can be no doubt that he was one of the very greatest performers of the twentieth century. What a star is, he was.
In time I saved my pennies and bought my own copy of Horowitz in Concert, the library’s copy having acquired so many ticks, pops, and scratches, more than a few of them put there by me, that I felt it was the least I could do. Today I own dozens of Horowitz CDs, but Horowitz in Concert has a special place in my heart, above all for the explosive performance of Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse” that was and is my favorite track. No one has ever played this astonishing piece more thrillingly than Horowitz did at Carnegie Hall half a century ago.
(To be continued)
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Vladimir Horowitz plays “L’isle joyeuse” at Carnegie Hall in 1966:
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To read about album #1, go here.