We all know Vladimir Horowitz, right? But have you ever thought about the fact that Horowitz had to become Horowitz? This article makes the case that you can hear that development through his recordings.

At the end of this past October, Sony Classical released the results of a major project, a 50-CD box set entitled Vladimir Horowitz: The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966–1983. This brings together recordings made during Horowitz recitals by Columbia between 1966 and 1968 and by RCA between 1975 and 1983. This involved 25 solo recitals given in fourteen different concert halls; and, as might be guessed, there is considerable overlap in program content. This will probably be received by many as an effort to tell more about Horowitz in performance than anyone would want to know.

For those with a greater sense of adventure, this collection provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a performing artist who spends much of his time traveling from one venue to another, frequently playing the same music at each of them. The beauty of this is that no two performances are ever perfectly alike. More interesting, however, is that, through this collection, it is sometimes possible to get a sense of the “learning curve” that emerges as the performer advances from one recital to the next.

Thus, one way to approach listening to this collection is to partition it on the basis of concert seasons. In that respect the very first recording in the collection is a bit of an outlier. It was made on November 13, 1966 in Woolsey Hall of the Yale University School of Music. The collection then leapfrogs ahead to October 22, 1967; and there is a season’s worth of performances running from that date until May 12, 1968. What is likely to make this season interesting, particularly to those with a general admiration for the piano repertoire even if they are not Horowitz enthusiasts, is that Horowitz chose this season to venture into territory not usually associated with his repertoire, the domain of Ludwig van Beethoven’s late piano sonatas.

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