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Three previously unpublished recordings of Mieczysław Horszowski playing Beethoven at recitals in Philadelphia (from the 1970s) and New York (from 1952) are presented here. Each alone would make the set worth acquiring for devout Beethovenians.

In the Eroica Variations Op 35, Horszowski displays a unique attack, with percussive passages sounding like a sprightly, yet peremptory, knocking on the door. Profoundly understood musical characterisation depicts Beethoven as a boor capable of flights of unsurpassed elegance.

The Diabelli Variations Op 120 from 1970 are decidedly more raucous and rambunctious than a refined 1951 recording (Vox CDX25511) of that work. There is intense life in the humorous Teutonic sensibility expressed here. At the keyboard, Horszowski was something of a sorcerer’s apprentice, retaining near-eternal youth like the claims of immortality made by shadowy figures of the Enlightenment such as the Count of St. Germain. A Waldstein Sonata from 1952 is played crisply in an intensely intellectual, yet risk-taking, performance.

The Vatican City recital from 1940 is rightly considered to be the Holy Grail of Horszowski performances. This restoration by producer Allan Evans improves upon his previous, rougher-sounding transfer from 1994 for Pearl. An apt chiaroscuro now illuminates the sound, identifying Horszowski as a Romantic, yet no- nonsense, interpreter of 19th-century works. Lofty poetic flights of fancy remind us why devotees esteemed Horszowski as a rare survivor of an unsurpassed era of pianistic genius, a half-century before his belated rediscovery.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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