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Pioneer Entertainment presents

Horowitz in Moscow (1986)

"Before I die, I want to see the country where I am born. That's one of the most important reasons. I cannot wait any more. Maybe next year I will not be playing any more. I wanted to see my family too, and I wanted to make peace between every country, not to kill each other."- Vladimir Horowitz

Stars: Vladimir Horowitz
Director: Brian Large

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:15s
Release Date: 2000-04-04
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+C+B+ D


DVD Review

Vladimir Horowitz was certainly one of the great pianists of the 20th century; indeed, he was a virtuoso for nearly eighty years of that century. He himself considered his 1986 concerts in Moscow to be the apex of his career, and one of those performances is captured on this DVD for future generations to appreciate.

The concert program is lengthy and varied, ranging from the highly formal classicism of Scarlatti sonatas to the nearly free form of Rachmaninoff preludes. Horowitz tackles them all with aplomb and with his unusual straight-fingered technique, emerging victorious for a most enjoyable evening of music. He opens with three Scarlatti sonatas, L. 33, 23 and 224, which he treats a single suite. The sprightly nature of L. 224 is wonderfully captured; one wonders how 80+ year old hands can manage these feats while still sounding as if gliding over the keys. During the performance of Mozart's sonata in C, K. 300, Horowitz demonstrates both power and delicacy in his playing, all the while barely moving his fingers perceptibly. The music seems to flow from him magically, as the triplets of the concluding Rondo cascade by effortlessly.

Rachmaninoff's preludes in G and G-sharp minor follow, in an introspective and rambling mood which the pianist uses to prepare himself for the next challenge: two violently moody etudes by Aleksandr Scriabin, in C-sharp minor op. 2 no. 1 and D-sharp minor op. 8 no. 12. These maddeningly difficult pieces in unwieldy keys flow just as easily as did the Mozart in C. During the intermission, several interview clips are presented, including Horowitz' amusing recollections of playing for Scriabin himself in 1914, shortly before the elder man's death.

The second half of the program is if anything even more challenging, with the Schubert Impromptu in B-flat opening the proceedings, followed by the Schubert/Liszt Valse-Caprice No. 6. Liszt himself follows with Horowitz' beautiful rendition of the Petrarch Sonata, where delicate simplicity and poetry are followed by stormy bombast. Two Chopin mazurkas are then presented, in an unaccustomed soft and flowing portrayals which heighten the often-hidden harmonic beauties of these pieces. Horowitz continues with more Chopin, in a daredevil, reckless and incredibly exhilarating reading of the Polonaise in A-flat, op. 53. This magic carpet ride of mayhem contains a fair number of flubbed notes, but the performance is so full of life that one can forgive any number of sins in the fingers.

By way of contrast, Horowitz follows the grandiose Polonaise with Schumann's Traumerei, a piece of childish simplicity which has seldom been played so sensitively or beautifully; if there were any doubt before, it is here made clear that the art of the pianist is not entirely in fingering the notes. Here Horowitz lays bare his soul and ends at peace. But he's not quite done yet; in a mischievous mood he concludes with Moszowski's Etincelles, a delightful little nugget which leaves the crowd, often tearful during this performance, with a smile on their lips.

The camera is fairly active during the program, focusing on Horowitz and his hands (which look like the hands of a much younger man), and alternately cutting to the raptly attentive Soviet audience. While I usually resent this kind of intercutting to the audience, here, because of Horowitz's personal connection to the crowd and the country and the significance to him of the performances, I was more than happy to welcome them into the picture.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is quite on the soft side through much of the film. Blacks are generally limited in strength, although on occasion a solid black will appear. Considering the circumstances for a live performance, this is not very surprising and not a serious detraction. Shadow detail is quite good. Colors range from washed-out to fairly accurate in appearance. No edge enhancement was apparent, and compression artifacting is minimal. Video bit rates range around 5 Mbps.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The sound throughout is quite good; Horowitz's Steinway sounds natural on both the PCM and DD 5.1 tracks, although occasionally in long pedal passages (such as the Chopin polonaise) the 5.1 track gets a slightly muddy bass. The more manic passages of the Scriabin etudes sound a little compressed in the 5.1 version as well. The most serious failing of the recording is a persistent tape hiss which is sometimes distracting in quieter passages. The noise of the audience is also audible at times. The 5.1 track features music coming from all speakers, which is a little disconcerting with a solo piano. The PCM track is obviously to be preferred, but the differences are not enormous.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:49m:09s

Extras Review: The only significant extra is a medium length biography of Horowitz. Chaptering is a little inadequate; the movements of the Mozart sonata should have been separately chaptered, but this is a minor quibble. Subtitles during the interview segments would have been nice because Horowitz can be a little difficult to understand when speaking English, no matter how expressive he may be at the keyboard.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

A wonderful and exhilarating performance, nicely captured by Pioneer. The picture quality has some problems, and there is persistent tape hiss, but otherwise it is a very highly recommended disc indeed.

Mark Zimmer 2000-12-10