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A complex, reticent man whose fame arrived late in life, Mieczysław Horszowski (1892-1993) shared some artistic similarities in his renditions of Chopin with Arthur Rubinstein, a pianist with whom he otherwise had little in common. Both performers offered thick-toned, sonorous versions of Chopin, inspired by the legacy of Romantic opera – as Chopin himself was. Horszowski’s playing was not itself operatic in any over-emotional way, even though he could teeter on the brink of barely suppressed hysteria in extreme old age. Instead, there is lilting lyricism in some of these excerpts, caught on the fly during recitals (1967-1990) and captured in less-than-ideal sound. In a 1980 concert in Pistoia, Italy, when Horszowski was a mere stripling of 88, he rendered a Berceuse and Prelude in D flat with rare elegiac lyricism. But there are also low points, including a hectic waltz encore from Kansas City in 1990, when the 98-year-old Horszowski seems in a tetchily excessive hurry to conclude the performance.

The ever-imaginative and always-excavating small label Arbiter has put together a CD booklet containing excerpts from a 1913 book on Chopin by the French musicologist Édouard Ganche, in which Horszowski had marked passages of interest. These newly available performances are likewise of high interest, if perhaps not on the same level as Horszowski’s finest achievements as an interpreter of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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