The Georgian pianist, Marina Mdivani, winner of the 1961 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition and a former pupil of Emil Gilels, has kindly brought to our attention a piece of music history that sheds light on the abilities and early impressions of a 20-year-old Vladimir Horowitz, in recital.
A review from 1924, Georgia, is given by music critic Alexander Samoylovich Petrokovsky (1888-1948), whose works have been compiled by his daughter, a close friend of Mdivani’s, in A.S. Petrokovsky’s “On Art: Selected Essays”.
Translated by Elena Rif and edited by Mdivani and Geoffrey Conquer, the review covers three Horowitz recitals that took place in the Small Hall of the Conservatory in Tbilisi (formerly Tiflis), Georgia. While neither month nor day(s) are included in the piece, which appeared in the “Zarya Vostoka” Russian newspaper, a signed photograph of Horowitz (right) has been uncovered, dated March 22, 1924, with the inscription, “To dearest Alexander Samoilovich Petrokovsky, with all best memories of our meeting in Tiflis,”.
Upon inspection, Petrokovksy’s style and remarks are comparable to those found in a Leningrad review, quoted in Glenn Plaskin’s 1983 biography of the pianist, of an all-Liszt recital from roughly the same period. The 1920s Leningrad piece reads: “His finger dexterity was incredible… the rapid scales seemed weightless and surrounded by air, each note gleamed and sparkled like tiny diamonds permeated by the sun. A magical magician! His interpretations of the Chopin mazurkas left a lasting impression that had nothing to do with bravura. They were a treasure: delicate with an astounding variety of timbre; so much fantasy and simply good taste,”.
Born in Tiflis, 1888, A.S. Petrokovksy began university studies in the department of law in Saint-Petersburg. He worked as an actor at the Komissarzhevskaya Theatre, collaborating with the then-popular “Apollo” Arts magazine. The city offered Petrokovksy opportunities and immersions of a wide spectrum in the artistic movements of the time.
Returning to Tiflis due to ill health, he was hired as an actor at the Yavorskaya Theater, reviewing theater productions in the “Caucasus” (“Kavkaz”) newspaper. In 1918, the first issue of “ARS” magazine was published, and Petrokovsky became its editor (poet A. Anonovskaya was its publisher).
With the establishment of the Soviet government in Georgia, Petrokovsky became active in the Central Education Committee (Glavkomprosvet), working on arts-related issues. When the “Zarya Vostoka” newspaper was established in 1922, he was hired on a permanent basis in the arts and culture department.
From 1926, he served for ten years as a deputy chief of the Chess and Checkers group. Together with a group of like-minded associates, he organized the first Chess Tournament of Georgia, which included 500 participants. According to Mdivani, Petrokovsky organized tournaments for her father, Victor Goglidze, who became Georgia’s first chess master. In our 2013 interview with Mdivani, the pianist shares that one of her father’s frequent chess opponents was none other than Sergei Prokofieff.
In 1944, Petrokovsky was decorated with the “For the Defense of the Caucasus” medal; in 1946, with the medal “For Selfless Valiant Labour”. A.S. Petrokovsky passed away in 1948 in Tbilisi, before his 60th birthday.
LISZT NIGHT WITH VLADIMIR HOROWITZ
by A. Petrokovsky
Hall of the Conservatory, “Zarya Vostoka” newspaper, 1924
The first Horowitz recital with his unforgettable “Don Juan” was enough to realize that this was a superstar: phenomenal technique, a gem of performance, scales, octaves, virtuoso passages – everything was amazing.
The Medtner of the second recital demonstrated that young Horowitz can play as an experienced artist, and that age is not a problem for a great talent.
The third recital – Liszt – revealed, once and for all, the most important, the most precious fact: Horowitz is not only an exceptional virtuoso, but also a profound poet who always has something to say. It was, in a way, a ‘Liszt renaissance’! The great musician came back to life and brought the soul’s poem to us with Horowitz magic. What beauty it was, what a piano feast! There were those moments, rare at concerts, the moments of deep enchantment, of full captivation, of a seeming hypnosis of the audience – when the poet, the artist would break through the splendor of Horowitz’s phenomenal technique, through the nervous outbursts of his temperament, full of hidden passionate force, and made them serve just him, turned them into solely an instrument…
The highest victory of the night was the B-minor Sonata. The famous sonata, the only one composed by Liszt, morphed into a monumental poem, where the demonic and the human elements were battling passionately. This Liszt was unforgettable. Only a few chosen ones are blessed with this ability to feel this composer’s style, to convey his contrasts in such an exceptional manner.
The audience was enthralled by Horowitz’s inspired ecstatic rendition of the sonata. The sonata was followed by the equally wonderful rendition of the “Spanish Rhapsody”, greeted by standing ovation. As an encore, Horowitz performed “La Campanella”, charming everybody by the crystal-clear sound of bells.
The great unique artistic personality of the pianist, his powerful fantasy, great nervous energy, lively creative pulse, remarkable sense of rhythm and exquisite taste – all this brilliantly manifested itself at the recital. What a pity that such an artist is forced to use a mediocre, to say the least, Becker piano, while a Bechstein is under seven locks in Tiflis…
Our 2013 interview with pianist Marina Mdivani can be found here.
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