The Russian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) is a true legend, and his name is forever synonymous with the consummate piano virtuoso. He electrified his audiences with his stupendous technique and his remarkable ability to draw out the tonal color of the piano. At his best he was without peer, but he was also a nervous performer, and some of his performances are indeed messy. He withdrew from the stage on numerous occasions, though ultimately he enjoyed a twilight performing career into his eighties, when his playing was noted more for color, charm, and finesse than for the incredible bravura of his younger years.
After one of his longest absences from the concert stage, Horowitz made a historic return in 1965 with a monumental recital in Carnegie Hall. The video excerpt above is his performance of two little Scarlatti sonatas that he played as encores at that concert. His emotional intensity, technical ease, and sense of pianistic color, as well as his sheer delight in performing are all apparent. He made this underappreciated music spring to life with grace and color. This particular concert is etched into my musical memory because my sixth grade teacher gave me the recording of this concert and it was one of a handful of treasured vinyl recordings that I had growing up (mind you, this was long before the days of the internet!)
Below a recording of 75-year old Horowitz playing one of his signature pieces–the complex and passionate Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto–with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra: