take 2

by pieces of moments

I was recently listening to a bunch of vintage “classical” LPs – one of them was of Vladimir Horowitz’s live performance of the Chopin Ballade No. 1 at Carnegie Hall on May 9, 1965. I had heard the recording before, but it was in my childhood, like, pre-junior high, so hearing it again now was essentially like hearing it for the first time in a lot of ways.

Listening to his performance, I come back to one of the fundamental interpretation questions I ask myself repeatedly: how has modern recording technology affected (for better or for worse) the way I listen, and what I perceive as a “perfect” performance? Editing has very often duped us into believing in things that never actually happened. Something about Horowitz’s take here seems right. I adore (x1,000,000,000) the recording I have of Krystian Zimerman performing all four Ballades, but there is something about Horowitz’s performance that grabs you by the arm and commands you to listen in a way that is more aggressive than Zimerman. I like that. I like his range of tempos. I like the “emotional rush” effect, the slight feeling of unpredictability – largely because it’s live and unedited. And is it just me, or were performers “allowed” to make more mistakes live in the past? Another side-effect of editing on our ears? What do I do with that?

I happened to find video of Horowitz performing the piece at Carnegie Hall. It’s unclear if it’s the same May 9, 1965 recording, but it’s sufficient for visual aid, regardless.