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May 07, 1975 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-05-07

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Page Five

Wednesday, May 7, 1.975

Horowitz, May Festival pro vide
stirring finale for 74-75 season

The last half of this past term's University Musical
Society- program was one of the most exciting sched-
ules in recent years, featuring such internationally
prominent artists as Andre Previn, Seiji Ozawa, and
Mstislav Rostropovich.
But two special events at the end of last month-
pianist Vladimir Horowitz's first University recital
after nearly 20 years of semi-retirement, and the
82nd Philadelphia Orchestra May Festival - provided
a highly unusual and even more thrilling finish for the
Society's 1974-75 season.
HOROWITZ'S RARE concert appearance illustrated
a .consummate individual artist at work-a performer
able to perfectly integrate mechanics and technique
into a sweeping array of musical expression. The Phila-
delphia Orchestra, on the other hand, demonstarted
the tremendous professionalism and sheer versatility
that only a superior musical organization can develop
and maintain.
The Horowitz recital, held April 20 in Hill Auditor-
ilm, represented the first live experience for most of
the audience of the master's deeply emotional yet pre-
cisey restrained piano style, after a decade of ex-
posure to nothing but a few scattered recordings. It
was an aurally rich afternoon that we shall not soon
In Robert Schumann's Kinderscenen ("Scenes from
Childhood"), for example, Horowitz skillfully balanced
sentiment and technical control to yield a powerful per-
formance of a deceivingly simple collection of piano
studies from the Romantic period. The distinctive
Horowitz touch-a unique ability to mix a light, clear
melodic line with a firm, definite counterpoint-turned
these student pianist's compositions into miniature
sketches of a warm past that we all have experienced
but have long since forgotten.
TH4T SUBTLE touch was equally visible in a com-
pletely contrasting work, the fifth sonata of Alexander
Scriabin. Working at ease amidst extremely demanding
passages, Horowitz evoked a mystic, occult-like atmos-
phere that ended in a dazzling shower of notes up the
Horowitz seemed to experience some difficulty, how-
ever, in executing a new approach to Chopin's ballade
in G minor, a feverish work which he recorded on a
CBS television special several years ago.
He had carefully warned critics at a press confer-
ence the day before the concert that he was not "an
assembly-line pianist," and that we could probably
expect a slightly different performance of each work
on the program than that on the recordings with which
we were familiar.
By slowing down the pace somewhat from his earlier
performances of the ballade, -Horowitz was able to
delineate more closely Chopin's careful attention to
harmonic detail. Yet some of the wild, frenzied spirit
inspired in the 1968 interpretation was apparently
somewhat dissipated in the process. While the overall
stormy mood of the ballade remained intact, the total

mood created was not as frighteningly striking.

BUT MYSTERY and frenzy returned to Hill again
en masse several days later when Eugene Ormandy
and the 'Philadelphia Orchestra came to town April 30
for their annual springtime visit. After a brief orches-
tral chorale tribute to Thor Johnson, the former May
Festival conductor who died in January, Ormandy
opened the series with one of the more exotic and color-
ful selections in the symphonic literature: Gustav Mah-
ler's Symphony No. 1 in D major.
Backed by superb performances from the lower
strings, Ormandy guided the Philadelphia through a
suitably perky rendition of the intensely challenging
Mahler score, filled with hundreds of different sound
images ranging from delicate solo-like lines to massive
ensembles. A generally weak contribution from the
horn section provided the only questionable moments.
And then, after intermission, caine some shocking
news (delivered most apologetically by Musical Society
director Gail Rector): the 75-year-old Ormandy,
plagued by a virus infection, felt too weak to continue
the concert. His assistant, William Smith, would finish
the program.
SMITH'S execution of Gershwin's An American in

Paris and the classic Firebird Suite by Stravinsky was
not exactly notable, but it was successful-and under
the circumstances, with both conductor and orchestra
caught unprepared, even that represented a consider-
able achievementt.
Using an ongoing series of hand signals, Smith and
the orchestra managed to keep together through both
the Gershwin and Stravinsky works - compositions of
incredible complexity - despite a few dropped beats
and some missed notes here 'and there. It was a re-
freshing exercise in orchestral flexibility( if it was not
the perfect concert performance.
Ormandy returned to the podium Thursday night,
directing piano soloist Rudolf Serkin. Aides reported
that he was completely rested and "feeling very chip-

In all, both presentations represented the state of
the concert at its finest. In Horowitz, we heard a ven-
erable-.genius of the piano deliver a memorable after-
noon overflowing with style and savoir-faire. And with
the Philadelphia, we saw an outstanding concert group
suffer the sudden loss of its legendary music director
and emerge from the evening with head unbowed. Both
instances again remind one of the subtle, but most dis-
tinct, difference between the mere performer and the
true artist.

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