SCARLATTI: Sonatas in B Minor, L. 33 and G Major, 487. HAYDN: Sonata in E Flat. SCHUMANN: Arabesque, Op. 18. Traumes Wirren, Op. 12 No. 7. CHOPIN: Mazurkas in E Minor, Op. 41 No. 2 and C Sharp Minor, Op. 50 No. 3. Etudes in C Sharp Minor, Op. 10 No. 4 and G Flat, Op. 10 No. 5. DEBUSSY: Etude XI. POULENC: Pastourelle. Toccata. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV-RACHMANINOFF: Flight of the Bumble-Bee. STRAVINSKY: Russian Dance from Petrushka. LISZT: Sonata in B Minor, Op. 5
VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, pianist
NAXOS 8.110606 (B) (ADD) TT: 77:31
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GLUCK-SGAMBATI: Melodie d'Orfee. SCHUBERT-TAUSIG: Marche Militaire (two versions). MENDELSSOHN: Spring Song. Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14. CHOPIN: Waltzes in E Minor, Op. Posth.(two versions) and G Flat, Op. 70 No. 1. Etudes in G Flat, Op. 10 No. 5 and A Flat, Op. 25 No. 1. MOSZKOWSKI: La jongleuse, Op. 52 No. 4. LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. LEVIZKI: Valse de Concert, Op. 1. Waltz in A Major, Op. 2. TCHAIKOVSKY: Troika from The Seasons. LISZT: La Campanella. BACH-LISZT: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. SCARLATTI: Sonata in A, K. 113. GLUCK-BRAHMS: Gavotte. BEETHOVEN: Ecossaise in E Flat Major.
MISCHA LEVITZKI, pianist

NAXOS 8.110688 (B) (ADD) TT: 77:06
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BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15. Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35. Rhapsody in B Minor Op. 79 No. 1 and G Minor, Op. 79 No. 2
Wilhelm Backhaus, pianist; BBC Symphony Orch/Adrian Boult, cond.

Naxos again provides intrigiung quality for the collector, and at bargain price. Here are recordings by three major pianists of their era, only two of which received their deserved attention. Mischa Levitzki, in spite of his name, was an American born in the Ukraine in 1898 of Russian parents who were naturalized American citizens visiting their homeland. A child prodigy, he had a number of respected teachers including von Dohnanyi.After a concert he gave when only eight years old, he "retired" until he was sixteen. He made his American recital debut in 1916 settling in the United States. Fascinating CD notes by Nalen Anthoni state Steinway & Sons graded artists using their pianos into four categories, A to D. The A category included only Josef Hofmann, Yolanda Merö, Ignace Jan Paderewski and Levitzki. Vladimir Horowitz and Sergei Rachmaninoff were in category B(!!!). Perhaps this instigated Horowitz's remark that Levitzki "was awful...just fingers, and you cannot listen only to fingers...there is a difference between artist and artisan. Levitzky was an artisan." Apparently Levizky had a love affair with Grace Moore. He must have had many admirers as he made many recordings, all now scheduled for release by Naxos. This first CD in the series contains his American Columbia acoustic recordings from 1923-24, his electric recordings for the same company from 1924-25 and recordings made for His Master's Voice, 1927-1933. Surely the wide range of repertory shows an elegant style, perhaps a bit of technical uneveness. His exaggerated playing of the two-hand trill towards the end of La Campanella is over the top, but effective in its own way. Ward Marston's transfers are excellent, as always. I look forward to the next two volumes.

The Vladimir Horowitz Naxos series continues with some of his most important recordings made for HMV from 1932-1934. The major work is his phenomenal performance of Liszt's Sonata in B Minor recorded in 1932, preferable to his RCA recording made 44 years later. We also have an elegant performnce of Haydn's E-Flat Sonata, a collection of shorter pieces by Scarlatti, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy and Poulenc and—most importantly—two of the rarest Horowitz recordings, The Flight of the Bumble-Bee and the Russian Dance from Petrushka, of which only a few copies existed after the pianist decided it should be withdrawn. As with the first Naxos Horowitz CD featuring Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 (REVIEW), these transfers are the finest ever. Many of these recordings were quite brittle in sound—for whatever reason, Horowitz's usually percussive playing often did not record particulary well. Mark Obert-Thorn does as much as can be done in restoration.

Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969) had a distinguished and long career. Primarily self-taught, during his early years he was, as Jonathan Summers says in his fine CD notes, "a firebrand virtuoso with an incredible technique." This is evident from his stunning 1927 recording for HMV of both sets of Chopin's Etudes—the first complete set ever made (once available on Pearl GEMM CD 9902). Backhaus was a pioneer in the world of recording, in the acoustic era making the first recording of a piano concerto in 1909 (Grieg), and continued to record rather profusely. This 1932 Brahms Concerto No. 1 is a remarkably dynamic performance, much more so than Backhaus' later remake. Just listen to that vivid opening to the final Allegro non troppo—bracing indeed. The wrist-breaking Paganini Variations, recorded in 1929, again display the pianist's total technical command, as do the two rhapsodies. Naxos has thoughtfully provided separate tracks for all 28 of the Paganini Variations. These new transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn are equal or superior to any others available—and at this price a definite best buy. Let's have more, Naxos!

R.E.B. (June 2003)