Here is the "essential" playing of Vladimir Horowitz at his peak in live recordings from concerts in 1943 and 1951. First, there is the historic war bond concert in 1943, when Toscanini conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in an all-Tchaikovsky program that included the "Nutrcracker Suite No. 1," the sixth symphony, and his first piano concerto. Joining Toscanini and the NBCSO in the concerto was Horowitz in a performance that exceeds the studio recording of 1941. This is electric, dazzling playing and Toscanini provides superb orchestral backing. The powerful orchestral interlude in the first movement has seldom sounded more dramatic and exciting. There is also great sensitivity in the serene second movement; there is only a brief section where Horowitz and the orchestra get a bit off-kilter. The final movement is absolutely dazzling. No wonder the Carnegie Hall audience stood and cheered.
Horowitz did his own arrangement of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." It is easy to forget that Mussorgsky wrote this as a piano piece and never orchestrated it. This gets down to basics and Horowitz provides an almost symphonic rendition of the original score. All of the familiar movements are played flawlessly and with considerable brilliance. There are some charming moments, too, and at one point the audience seems to snicker as Horowitz captures the essence of a more whimsical section. It all leads to the terrifying "Baba Yaga" and the triumphal "Great Gate of Kiev." This is a very exciting performance, taken from a memorable 1951 Carnegie Hall recital.
The sound on these recordings has been digitally reprocessed. Fortunately, RCA Victor did not resort to any clever "gimmicks" and we hear clear high fidelity sound that faithfully captures the performances.