“...these are readings of magical sensibility and awesome power.”
|Out of print:|
This recording has been removed from the Philips catalog. However, most of the pieces on it are issued on other CDs listed on this site.
1 Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 61 Polonaise-Fantaisie
2 Mazurka in F minor, Op. 63 no. 2
3 Mazurka in A minor, Op. 68 no. 2
4 Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50 no. 3
5 Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 63 no. 3
6 Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68 no. 4
7 Mazurka in C, Op. 56 no. 2
8 Mazurka in E minor, Op. 41 no. 2
9 Scherzo no. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31
10 Nocturne no. 17 in B, Op. 62 no. 1
11 Nocturne no. 18 in E, Op. 62 no. 2
12 Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60
13 Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Franck: Prélude, choral et fugue
Debussy: Images (Book I)
4 Reflets dans l'eau
5 Hommage à Rameau
Debussy: Images (Book 2)
7 Cloches à travers les feuilles
8 Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût
9 Poissons d'or
Debussy: Pour le piano
14 Mouvement de menuet
Executive Producer: Tom Deacon
For many music-lovers, this could be the sleeper in Philips’s “Great Pianists” series. It would be idle to pretend that Ivan Moravec is the most famous pianist in the world, but for a goodly number of enthusiasts the notion that he may be the greatest living one is by no means idle. There is a probity of musical purpose, a stylistic perception, a freedom combined with strictness of rhythm, a mastery of varied sonorities, and a sovereign technical command about his playing that has perhaps, in recent decades, been matched only by Sviatoslav Richter - and Richter is no longer with us.
In these pages I have had occasion in the past to commend Moravec’s playing of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. No less remarkable are his interpretations of the French and Slavic repertoire. While several of them are already available scattered around the VAI, Vox, Nonesuch, and Dorian labels, the selection Philips has gathered here makes a useful and nicely contrasted compilation, and if in the star-studded company of this series it attracts new admirers to the Czech pianist’s art, that will be all to the good.
Both in detail and across the broad interpretive arc of each work, these are readings of magical sensibility and awesome power. The volcanic impulse he brings to Franck's Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue has been widely praised. (Taped by Connoisseur Society in 1962, this is the oldest recording in the set. The newest ones are the three mazurkas and Scherzo no. 2 from Dorian's 1989 disc. All of them are rendered here in near-impeccable richness and clarity of sound, but Philips really ought to have mentioned somewhere in its otherwise admirable documentation that some are of analog origin.) The Ravel Sonatine, from 1969, is an equally compelling performance, one of the few I have ever heard that realize the decorous minuet feeling of the second movement so surely that it does not at moments begin to sound too much like a rehash of the first. The remainder of the two discs is given over to Chopin and Debussy, and in their music Moravec's virtues are just as impressive and distinctly more unusual. Not for him is the too common view of these two composers as rather fragile and hypersensitive artists. I do not mean to imply any insensitivity in his handling of them. But an irrepressible rhythmic life and an astonishingly solid yet luminous tone, especially in the left hand, contribute to a realization of their music that, while as imaginatively beguiling as any, is also far stronger and more virile than most.
It may be to this determined avoidance of the wishy-washy that some of the very few questionable interpretive decisions in the set are due. Once or twice - for example in Reflets dans l'eau, the opening piece in Debussy's first book of Images - I felt that Moravec's determination to make every note sound was pushing him beyond the normal confines of a pianissimo dynamic. As against that, the atmosphere of this and every other piece is delineated with such clarity and wealth of nuance that quibbles over dynamic detail seem churlish. Aside from that, and from a conclusion to Pour le Piano that is not quite the “double plus lent” that Debussy asks for, I find these performances beyond praise and beyond any ordinary human competition. It was - just a few years back, let me confess - Moravec who began to show me that Chopin was not the neurasthenic ninny he appears in many pianists' portrayals, and who first demonstrated to me rather longer ago the rocklike solidity of line and texture that underpins even the airiest and most fanciful of Debussy's inspirations. I am duly ashamed of those old misconceptions - but having once harbored them, I feel all the more confidence in recommending Moravec's performances to any comparably deluded unfortunates among Fanfare's readership. At the same time, I have now done enough comparing with most of the other celebrated Chopin and Debussy exponents in our century to be sure that Moravec is - as that excellent critic Jim Svejda called him more than 10 years ago, when certain other luminaries were still before the public - Debussy's “greatest living interpreter.” Even listeners already devoted to Debussy and Chopin are likely to find the present set of performances unsurpassed.
BBC Music Magazine
Philips's edition of great pianists constitutes a parade of distinguished and distinctive personalities. Ivan Moravec's Chopin, drenched with atmosphere, blends poise and fragrance into a seductive potion: few pianists seem so dedicated to producing magical sonorities.
Asked in an interview to describe the qualities of great piano playing, the Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (b 1930) used terms like “serious craftsmanship, cultivated sound, good taste, truthfulness - and beauty”. If asked to describe the qualities of Moravec’s piano playing, I would use exactly those terms. Everything in his performances has been thought through and is impeccably executed in every detail, with each phrase shaped to fit into the structure of the piece - but it never sounds calculated. His use of rubato may seem excessive to some, but it contributes to great warmth and naturalness of expression. His exceptional tone control and mastery of the sustaining pedal make him one of the great colorists of our time.
Moravec is a perfectionist and spends years working on a piece before he presents it to the public; as a result, his repertory is somewhat limited, but it includes the major works of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and the French and Czech composers. The selections made by Philips for this release in their “Great Pianists” series are all French (including Chopin in that category), and it would have been a good idea to include something to show his grasp of the Central European tradition. But what we have - performed and recorded between 1962 and 1989 for various labels (Vox, Connoisseur Society, Dorian) - displays his artistry very well. His Chopin is manly, elegant, and poetic, his Franck Prelude is among the most noble and convincing of them all, and his Debussy and Ravel have the architectural solidity, the shimmering play of light and shadow, and the glowing beauty of a Cezanne painting. You may already have some or all of these performances in your collection, but if you don’t, they have a great deal to offer.
Clara Haskil’s second volume in this series [457 829-2] is ... another ‘must have’. But not more so, in my view, than the very different offerings from Ivan Moravec [456 910-2], a great artist and supreme pianist whose relative neglect by the major record companies is little short of criminal. No player known to me has ever elicited a more refined or wide-ranging tonal palette, but what makes his playing most memorable isn’t just his lustrous sound but his searching musicianship, complemented by an eloquent sophistication of phrase which makes many of his more famous colleagues look almost primitive by comparison. Like his teacher Michelangeli, he has chosen to play (in public, anyway) a relatively restricted repertoire. The present volume is devoted to Chopin, Debussy, Franck and Ravel, all in superbly recorded sound, and may finally result in the much deserved fame which has so far eluded him.
L’un des intérêts de la collection de Philips est de nous faire découvrir des pianistes peu connus, dont les enregistrements ne sont pas faciles à trouver. Ivan Moravec est tchèque. Il a soixante-neuf ans. Il n’est pas très connu (en France), sans doute parce qu’il n’enregistre pas pour les majors, et parce que sa carrière de concertiste est peu passée par la France. Il y a environ un an, il a sorti un bel enregistrement de concertos de Mozart chez Hänssler. Cet album nous le fait découvrir en soliste dans Chopin, Debussy, Ravel et Franck. Son jeu se caractérise par une absence totale de sécheresse, accentuée par une pédalisation très raffinée (un peu à la Brendel, mais en moins accentué), et des sonorités attirées par le medium. Ses Chopin sont tristes, et d’une rare élégance, Moravec les expurgeant de toute mièvrerie sans pour autant transfigurer les oeuvres. On a bien affaire à des mazurkas, mais écrites par un esprit d’une très grande hauteur de vue, qui évitait toujours la facilité — et encore plus la bassesse. Avec Moravec, on reste toujours à cette très haute altitude. Ses Debussy sont beaucoup plus épais qu’à l’accoutumée (sans donner dans la puissance, comme chez un Zymerman), et sont joués avec cette qualité de sonorité indispensable pour recréer l’univers debussyste. Il s’agit là d’un très bel album, qui nous fait découvrir un pianiste dont le talent dépasse largement la renommée. On regrette d’autant plus que d’autres grands pianistes méconnus, comme le hongrois Deszo Ranki, n’aient pas également été retenus dans la collection.
The battle for the most convincing, or at least resonant, Chopin might be a two-person standoff between Ivan Moravec and Artur Rubinstein. Moravec's Nocturnes nos. 17 and 18 (Op. 62) are about as exquisite as any on record, with life enough to sound as though they were being played in person only inches from the ear. Throughout the first of these two CDs, Moravec uses his pedals to hold Chopin's tones for so long that they become rhapsodic in their balanced extendedness.
A native of Prague, Moravec has eschewed the spotlight, mostly because of his emphasis on teaching and assiduous practice. He's famous for insisting that every aspect of his performance be near-perfect, from his clear command of the work to his intimate knowledge of the instrument on which he'll perform. So it's ideal that he focuses on repertoire fed by perfectionism and elaborately precise pacing--not to mention his penchant for unmistakable contrast. This last trait is most evident in the big energy of Franck's Prélude, chorale, et fugue (recorded in 1962).
The selections on Disk one convincingly back up the claim that Ivan Moravec is the world's greatest living Chopinist, including a majestic performance of the 4th Ballade that has no recorded equal. But the jewel of this collection is the definitive performance of the Cesar Franck Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue: a work which Mr. Moravec just absolutely “owns”. Clarity and pure musicianship are the hallmark of this recording, and Mr. Moravec succeeds in bringing out the complex voices of the fugue in such a way as of which other pianists only dream! The cadenza that mystically weaves together the themes of the three separate parts into a whole is a joy to listen to, and Mr. Moravec resists the mistake made by other artists of rushing the final bars in a high speed bravura dash to the end, instead allowing the broken chords of the chorale to bring the work to a stately yet glorious conclusion. There are a lot of recordings of the Franck Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue. But if you haven't heard this one, then you haven't heard it at all!
“Critic's Choice” rating
Some of the greatest practitioners in the annals of piano playing have been destined to receive proper acclaim from a loyal but relatively limited audience, a level of recognition not commensurate with their true musical and pianistic endowments. Ivan Moravec is such a pianist, but the fact that he is not a world-famous superstar has had no apparent effect on his pursuit of artistic truth. Ever since his first recordings (issued by Connoisseur society) appeared in the United states in 1962, and his American debut two years later, Moravec has repeatedly proved himself to be a pianist of extraordinary distinction. He is not known to possess any strong cravings for the spotlight, and has indulged in no particular extra-musical dalliances. (His only real departure from the norm was a brief appearance on the soundtrack of the motion picture Amadeus. Typically, he was heard in the finale of one of Mozart's less often played concertos.) Moravec has instead focused intently, and intentionally, on the perfection of a rather circumscribed repertoire, albeit one selected with care and discrimination. His career, in both the US and elsewhere, has been steady and unostentatious. His output of recordings hardly voluminous but always of the highest quality.
The reasons for this state of affairs are not hard to find. Moravec's unassuming stage personality, devoid of eccentricities, is one that compels concentration on the poetic essence of the music he is playing. Eschewing for the most part the virtuoso warhorses favoured by the majority of his colleagues, Moravec has concentrated on significant works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Franck, Debussy and Ravel. As one of the most self-critical of today's pianists, Moravec may work for several years on a given piece before he deems it ready to offer to the public. In addition, a good deal of his energy has been devoted to teaching (about which he holds strong convictions), both at the Prague Conservatory and in the master-classes he has offered in many locales.
Moravec vividly described his objectives in public performance during a 1982 interview with Bob Doerschuk. “The ideal mental or inner position of a player is to play as somebody else would play for you. You must almost float in the music, where the technique, the instrument, and your own mistakes don't disturb you. I believe, in this sense, that something very valuable can happen occasionally on the platform if everything goes freely, with no obstacles and without too much forcing of your will, because if the will aspect is felt too much. it's a little bit in the way of - let's say the word - a free inspiration. If a player is well prepared and has no physical aches, and if there aren't too many coughs from the public, something which had never occurred to him can come as a small lightning in the evening. Every player craves for that.”
Defining the characteristics of Moravec's pianism, the elements that set him apart from his colleagues is a process that inevitably turns to the richness and sheer beauty of his tone. Few pianists, in fact, can claim a sonority so perfectly graded and balanced, replete with a unique smoothness and prismatic sheen. We have all heard pianists, of course, to whom the issue of tone means little or nothing; these are the players whose sound reveals only a grey impersonality, a constant neutral colour, sometimes with a distinct lack of carrying power in pianissimo passages, and often an objectionable ugliness at the higher dynamic levels. Moravec's playing is immune from any such objections. He has assiduously cultivated the tonal dimension to an extraordinary degree, and the results are as much a tribute to his technical resources as to his inner ear. According to Moravec, if one hears the music inwardly with a clear, intense (aural) image, the pianist can compel his hand to produce the appropriate sound. “Generally I produce the tone by using the weight of my arm.” he says. “The tone doesn't come out as I want if I use only the fingers.”
Closely allied to this approach is Moravec's remarkable sensitivity to pedalling. There is a notable absence of dryness in his playing, and he is not averse to unusually long pedallings to sustain certain harmonies that must be prominent. In an interview with Joseph Horowitz, Moravec acknowledged that “whenever I can combine sound to achieve tremendously long sonorities, I do it. It is hard to put into words what I try to achieve with piano colour. Perhaps I could say that a certain sound medium provokes a feeling of a different space.”
Dating from one of Moravec's earlier recording sessions (in 1966), the two Chopin nocturnes in the present collection are excellent examples of this pianist's sonority as heard from a relatively close, intimate perspective, as befits the nature of the music. When massive power is required, however, as in the climactic moments of the Chopin Ballade no. 4 or the Franck Prelude, chorale et fugue, Moravec summons forth all the resources at his command, lending an atmosphere of compelling intensity and drama to the proceedings.
In light of these major components of Moravec's artistry, it is hardly surprising that he insists on having a piano of the proper quality for all his concerts and recordings. This is a concern he shares with one of his teachers, the late Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. While at various times Moravec has played (with satisfaction) on Baldwin, Bösendorfer, Petrov and Steinway pianos, the problem of proper regulation is constantly present. Indeed, Moravec has been known to occasionally cancel concerts “because of the poor quality of the instrument. Sometimes I face an instrument where each key has a different weight... And we haven't even spoken about unevenness in the hammers.” In such situations, Moravec works closely with the local piano technician to improve the instrument's condition. “I like to co-operate with a tuner and a technician to bring the piano to its optimum.” Moravec says. But if all else fails, Moravec will draw upon the tool kit he carries with him to accomplish whatever may be required. “I am not a complete technician, but I can tune and correct certain mistakes. I can do a little voicing if there are some very harsh notes. If I find that the repetition springs are dead, I have the tools to fix them myself. Why should I sacrifice the level of my playing?”
It goes without saying that technical brilliance, as such, has never been one of Moravec's obsessions. While his formidable equipment easily conquers the challenges of the Chopin ballades and the Brahms concertos, one never comes away from a Moravec performance exclaiming about mere virtuosity. The mechanical aspects of his approach are far too deeply submerged in, and at the service of, his musical conceptions.
The nature of those conceptions is essentially thoughtful and introspective, involving an amalgam of breadth, elasticity and discipline that is always borne of the strongest musical convictions. On more than one occasion Moravec has confronted the question of how much rhythmic freedom is permissible. “There are millions of possibilities. Quite often I say to myself, I am playing this in too much of a rubato style. I even use a metronome to correct myself. Still, you must strive for unity at the same time you strive for elegance and subtle feeling.”
When asked by Patricia Gray to describe the qualities of great piano playing, Moravec responded, “First of all, a serious craftsmanship and cultivated sound. Good taste. And eventually some beauty. I personally am very much looking for truthfulness in music making. [For instance. in Chopin's music] I am looking for players who not only play the piece well with good sound and good technique, but who [also] understand that Chopin was a deeply feeling, great human being. The emotion which he gave into his works should be understood and should be renewed by the performer. This is a very difficult and severe demand.” Moravec goes on to enumerate the pianists and recordings he has admired most and who were influential on his thinking. He mentions Gieseking's discs of the Schumann Kinderszenen and Brahms Intermezzi as his “first great experience.” He admits candidly that “I didn't at first understand the nobility of his style.” Moravec also singles out lgnaz Friedman's recordings of various Chopin mazurkas and etudes (“I will never forget the impression,”) then mentions Dinu Lipatti (Bach chorales, Schumann and Grieg concertos, Chopin), and Benedetti Michelangeli (Brahms' Paganini Variations). He also praises Glenn Gould's 1955 disc of Bach's Goldberg Variations, the young Vladimir Ashkenazy playing all the Chopin etudes, and certain performances by Josef Hofmann, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Lhévinne.
“I believe recordings are one of the world's big achievements,” Moravec said in a 1984 conversation with Dean Elder. “Listening to a great performance repeatedly makes it possible for a musician to grow to the level of the recording. Listening to recordings brings evidence and knowledge; a pianist should know how different masters interpret particular pieces.”
By no means has Moravec confined his listening only to pianists. “Great singing was in my childhood my greatest interest,” he explained to Joseph Horowitz. “My father was a lawyer. but he was an excellent singer. And before I started to go to concerts, I spent evenings with opera. My first love was Caruso. That has played a very important part in my playing. I perceive melody vocally. and I crave the richest inflections of tone.”
As for Moravec's own recorded legacy, it covers most of the major compositions in his repertoire and includes discs produced by Connoisseur Society (now reissued on CDs from Nonesuch and VAI), Supraphon, Vox. Nonesuch, Dorian, and Hänssler. Moravec has maintained an active concerto repertoire of about 15 works, including Beethoven's Third and Fourth, both the Brahms, the Grieg, Schumann, and Dvorak concertos, Mozart's K. 449, 466, 488, 491, and 503, Franck's Variations Symphoniques, Ravel's G Major, and Prokofiev's First. His podium collaborators have included (among others) Vaclav Neumann, Jirí Belohlávek, Eduardo Mata, and Sir Neville Marriner.
An excellent summation of Moravec's pianism was provided by New York Times critic Harold Schonberg after a 1980 recital. “Using an exceptionally warm sound, he played with a perpetually singing line. There was a sense of architecture to the playing. This was an absorbing recital, played by a pianist who is very much his own man, with a degree of intensity, poetry and tonal subtlety very rare in these days of machine gun piano playing.”
© 1998 Donald Manildi