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A NICE, LEISURELY STROLL THROUGH CBS’ ‘SUNDAY MORNING’ : Horowitz’s Inspired Performance in Moscow Captured on Television

Times Music Critic

Vladimir Horowitz left Russia 61 years ago. In the intervening decades, he became one of the world’s greatest pianists--some insist the greatest.

He also became a mysterious legend, a bona-fide eccentric, a dynamic law unto himself, a canny millionaire, a romantic icon and an avowed enemy of his homeland.

“I don’t like the Russian approach to music, to art, to anything,” he declared in a 1980 interview. “I lost all my family there. I never want to go back, and I never will.”

But he did go back, last week at 81. And CBS was there.

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His sentimental odyssey, a happy result of the Geneva summit, may have been compromised by the shadow of Libya. Soviet officialdom reportedly snubbed the pianist and treated his return as a non-event.

Nevertheless, government bureaucrats did snap up 1,400 of the 1,800 seats in the Moscow Conservatory auditorium that housed the historic comeback. In order to play for young musicians and for the masses, Horowitz decided to transform rehearsals into informal concerts.

Even without Soviet publicity machines churning on his behalf, the impish musical ambassador captured the attention he deserved. After all, he didn’t just bring along his customary piano, his customary piano tuner, his customary entourage, his customary food stocks (fresh dover sole and asparagus) and his customary supply of videocassettes for late-night movie-watching. He also brought along his own American television crew.

The deal was simple. Horowitz would play without fee. But he would retain recording and broadcast rights, and his unprecedented recital-travelogue--a fascinating document by any standard--would be seen throughout most of Western Europe.

Los Angeles saw it “live,” on a delayed basis, Sunday at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. Charles Kuralt provided interview snippets, location color and friendly hyperbole.

Horowitz, we were assured, “came, saw and conquered.” He is “the last of the dazzling romantic virtuosos of the piano.” He “plays the sonata as if Mozart wrote it for him.” “The old maestro has hit his stride now, and he’s playing before an adoring audience. . . .”

Wyatt Andrews, the regular CBS news correspondent in Moscow and an obvious expert on Russian audiences, chimed in at intermission, sounding like a sportscaster. “Horowitz’s gotta be back there knowing that they’re appreciating every single note!”

The cameras showed the pianist’s limousine stalled by a mob outside the concert hall. They showed Horowitz playing Scriabin in the composer’s living room for the composer’s daughter on the composer’s piano. They showed the master beaming as admirers piled a mountain of floral tributes at his feet. The cameras showed a fan making his own tape of the recital.

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They also showed a face in the crowd streaked with tears as Horowitz sighed the most tender of “Traeumerei” encores. One wanted to believe the face belonged to a bureaucrat.

Once in a while, the television folks actually let some Muscovites speak. They were students, teachers, music lovers. They spoke more eloquently and with far more sophistication than did our gee-whiz hosts.

For most people, the gush didn’t matter. The music making was the thing.

When Los Angeles last saw Horowitz, three years ago, his performance was a pathetic reflection of past glories. Perhaps he was ill. Perhaps he was out of sorts. The magic was gone, and only the mannerisms remained.

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Horowitz probably had that unfortunate tour in mind when he arrived in Moscow and bantered with the press. “You expect something from me?” he reportedly asked, presumably in jest. “I can’t play anymore.”

Balderdash.

Making due allowances for the horrors of television sound, for the passage of time and for the profound emotion of the occasion, Horowitz played, much of the morning, like an inspired demon.

His program--a melange of Scarlatti, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Schubert, Liszt and Chopin--seemed designed to stress refinement rather than force. There were moments--in the inevitable gut-thumping of Chopin’s A-flat Polonaise, for instance--when he seemed tired, when control sagged, when a passionate scramble beckoned.

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There were times when one regretted the Horowitz trademark of the cadential blur, times when one had to readjust to the disparity of the thundery bass and feathery treble.

Nevertheless, Moscow experienced the work of a unique master.

He still commands the fastest, most nimble fingers ever to touch a keyboard--probably a hundred of them.

He still shades the line with a myriad telling accents and nuances. He still sings with equal parts delicacy and rapture. He still commands a superhuman dynamic scale. He still challenges the brain and touches the heart.

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And, yes, in his final encore, he still ignites the universe with the subtle, rippling, perpetual-motion fireworks of Moszkowski’s “Etincelles.” When he isn’t concerned with profundity, Horowitz can still transform bonbons into haute cuisine.

One of the commercial spokesmen for the telecast, incidentally and ironically, was a smiling young actor named John Rubinstein. He happens to be the son of another Russian pianist, one of Horowitz’s erstwhile rivals, a genius named Artur.


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