On the trip home from Minneapolis today, the roads were clear and I was able to enjoy an album of the great Sergei Rachmoninoff playing his own music in 1911-1915, when he was at his prime as a great pianist. Here, he plays his most famous Prelude, a piece he grew to hate closer to his death in 1943 because everybody insisted upon hearing him play it as if it was the only piece he wrote. It was a great piece, of course, but one can understand his exhaustion at being treated like a one-trick pony.
I don't think there is anybody who physically mastered the piano like Rachmaninoff. So excessive was his strength that he was forced to use at least half of it to restrain himself. Horowitz just lets his strength go and the piano roars and rumbles uncontrollably. Rachmaninoff holds back and uses his strength to produce absolute accuracy, absolute control, absolute tautness. His rhythms are so controlled, so tight, so strong that one almost gets a headache imagining how much thought he put into a piece before executing it to perfection.
We are lucky to have these recordings (look up "A Window in Time") which were made by a piano roll machine long before audio recordings were of any quality. The rolls were discovered in the 1980s and a piano was constructed to replay them. Thanks to these rolls, we know how the scowling Old Man intended his piano pieces to sound. Would that we had the same for Bach.
UPDATE: At least we have Rachmaninoff playing Bach, anyway!