Franck, Horszowski and a recording of Tchaikovsky whistling

Fascinating stuff at Stephen Hough’s Telegraph blog these past few days, including this recording which claims to preserve the voice – and whistling – of Tchaikovsky. And a very beautiful post about Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue and its spiritual content for Advent, which even I can relate to from the murky space somewhere between atheism, agnosticism and the Vilna Gaon.I was once lucky enough to hear Mieczyslaw Horszowski perform this work, aged over 90, at the Aldeburgh Festival – it must have been 1986. Having sat listening to innumerable renditions of it in Dartington Summer School masterclasses, I knew how the piece went; but it made sense to me for the first time in the hands of an artist of such great wisdom with a supreme instinct for the poetry of pure simplicity. The P,C & F is not a particularly simple piece, but Horszowski brought out the clarity of its conception and wove the final section, when the themes of prelude and chorale return, their textures knitted together, into a triumphant three-in-one affirmation that lifted us all sky high.

Backstage afterwards, we found Horszowski ensconced in an armchair, reminiscing about the first performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet at Franck’s house, at which the youthful Horszowski had been present. Ranged round him, crouching, listening, were Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia (who was then the director of the festival)…  

Horszowski, one of the favoured pupils of the legendary Leschetizky, went on performing until the end of his life. I last heard him at his 99th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall. A 100th birthday one was planned, but he was not well enough by then to give it and died soon afterwards. Later, the story emerged that as he had been a child prodigy, his parents had falsified his birth certificate to make out that he was two years younger than he really was, so at his 99th birthday concert he may actually have been 101. 

Hear Stephen play the P,C&F  on his Hyperion recording here.

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