Vladimir Horowitz (who had a Polish grandmother and was fond of pointing out that he was "half as much a Pole as Chopin"), recorded more of Chopin's music than that of any other composer.
For decades Horowitz had a problematic relationship with Chopin's Second Sonata. A 1936 attempt to record the piece was aborted due to the pianist's first nervous breakdown (the first movement survives). Horowitz's 1950 recording for RCA is a bizarre collection of details, with a Funeral March that sounds like a Russian boat song on steroids. This 1962 recording is highly successful, however. Horowitz is obviously on top of the piece, technically, with his spare pedaling highlighting Chopin's use of counterpoint. The Funeral March is, for once, played with a crisp rhythm, the central section exquisitely balanced. He performed this work several times in the 1970s, but not as convincingly as he does here.
Horowitz made several recordings of the ever popular A-flat Polonaise, and this one adheres most closely to Chopin's text. The introduction is very sparsely pedaled (as if Horowitz were saying "Look! I can play the tricky introduction without using the pedal to cover up insufficient finger work. Take THAT, Rubinstein!"). The remainder of the piece goes with gusto and flair (too fast to be a Maestoso), but he somehow misses the grandeur which Rubinstein brought to the piece--and which Horowitz himself would attain later years. The A-major Polonaise is also taken at a fast clip, but it somehow seems more appropriate to this work, and one is reminded of Chopin's remark that if he were able to play the piece the way he meant it to be played, the piano would lay in ruins afterward.
The F-sharp minor Polonaise is given a performance which is downright diabolical, even nerve-wracking. Yet Horowitz holds the work under a rhythmic control that even Arthur Rubinstein never achieved. It is no exaggeration to say that this may be the greatest F-sharp Minor Polonaise ever recorded; certainly it is one of Horowitz's greatest achievements in Chopin.
Horowitz considered the Polonaise-Fantasie, derided by Liszt as incomprehensible, one of Chopin's greatest works. Of his three authorized recordings, this one, from a 1966 Carnegie Hall concert, is the finest. Despite liberal use of rubato, slow tempos, and a generally moody approach, the structure of the piece holds together well.
Played at an extremely fast tempo, Horowitz demonstrates in the Fantasie-Impromptu that fidelity and freedom with regard to the score can coexist. He is one of the few pianists who bothers to repeat the first phrase as a quieter echo of the forte statement--as indicated in the score. He also preserves the structure of the piece by maintaining the initial tempo in the central section rather than slowing down to chase rainbows--and he adds some tiny embellishments along the way. Astonishingly, this performance was recorded only a few days before Horowitz's death at age 86.
The CD ends, as did many of Horowitz's programs, with the B minor Scherzo. A relatively straightforward interpretation, the piece ends with a typically Horowitzian touch, interlocking octaves in place of chromatic scales. Astonishing!