The recording of Horowitz's 1965 comeback concert has long been a staple of the brilliant and erratic pianist's discography, but always in edited form. Time's come for it now, in these documentary-obsessed, warts-'n'-all days, for it just as he played it, with clinkers galore. All those wrong notes were an essential part of Horowitz's performances. He was a calculating daredevil, always going for the big effect as he slammed down some of the most powerful fingers in keyboard history. But when he was carried away in performance, things often went awry, and you never knew what he would do next.
In Schumann's Fantasy, he careens all over the place, fabulous in the fast passages, at sea in the slower ones. In Scriabin's "Black Mass" Sonata, he is all trilling hocus-pocus. And in a succession of short pieces and endless encores, he is Mister Showman, shamelessly percussive one second, obnoxiously coy the next. It's an exhausting and often infuriating listen, this recital, but the electricity is at the maximum and, boy, could he play.
A veteran of many comebacks, Horowitz reinvented himself once more in the 1980s, this time as an old master, and made several insufferable recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. His powers of concentration, never very sustained, were minimal in his later years. But his fingers remained strong, and he reveled in being a sly old guy. Along with a miscellany of short solo pieces from his DG discs, this new compilation includes a recording of the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23, with Giulini conducting members of the La Scala Orchestra in Milan. DG adds a DVD documentary of the session (produced by Peter Gelb) that shows Horowitz's love of attention, a twinkle in his eye and his wrinkled fingers still amazingly ready for action. Giulini protects the pianist from his worst excesses, while Horowitz juices up Giulini's solemn style, making the collaboration almost interesting.