“I have listened over and over and still continue to marvel at the subtleties of Moravec's pianism. Gorgeous and delicate, but these are not wispy interpretations which melt like cotton candy.”
Images (Book 1)
1 Reflets dans L'eau
2 Hommage à Rameau
Images (Book 2)
4 Cloches à travers les feuilles
5 Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut
6 Poissons d'or
7Des pas sur la niege (Prelude Book 1, No. 6)
9 Soirée dans Grenade
10 Jardins sous la pluie
1 Mazurka in F minor, Op. 63 No. 2
2 Mazurka in A minor, Op. 68 No. 2
3 Mazurka in B-flat, Op. 7 No. 1
4 Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 30 No. 4
5 Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33 No. 4
6 Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2
7 Waltz in C-sharp major, Op. 64 No. 2
8 Waltz in E minor, Op. post.
9 C-sharp minor, Op. 26 No. 1
10 Polonaise Fantasie in A-flat major, Op. 61
Recorded in 1982/83, Ivan Moravec's Debussy and Chopin recitals for Vox count among the most attractively engineered piano recordings from the early days of digital. Max Wilcox's engineering does full justice to Moravec's luminescent tone and ultra-discreet mastery of the sustain pedal. The runs and arpeggios in Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau, Mouvement, and Poissons d'or flow so naturally and unmechanically that you don't immediately notice how precise and even they really are. The hushed, sustained atmosphere of Debussy's Des pas sur la neige and Estampes' exotic overtones come alive through Moravec's acute sense of timing and tonal application.
Although his less-heroic, more inward path through Chopin's C-sharp minor Polonaise and Polonaise-Fantasie contrasts with Artur Rubinstein's firmer swagger, the approach proves equally valid. And Moravec coaxes half tints and inner voices from his selected Mazurkas and Waltzes without unduly underlining them (the trio of the C-sharp minor Waltz, for instance). Even if you already possess Michelangeli's Debussy Images, Richter's Estampes, or Rubinstein's Chopin, Moravec deserves equal space in your collection. A bargain not to be missed.
These two CDs were digitally recorded for LP release in 1982-83, and thus add up to just under 95 minutes. With playing on this level, though, they'd still be a bargain at almost any price. The color, shading, and imagination Ivan Moravec applies to Debussy makes the music glow and shimmer. His Chopin playing is some of the best in the business; sample the idiomatic rhythms of the Mazurkas, or the memorable journey he makes out of the Polonaise- Fantaisie. As it happens, the discs sell for a very low price (less than that of a standard full-price single disc), making this set a major bargain.
Avec Moravec, tout rentre dans l’ordre, les pièces du puzzle se rassemblent comme par magie et forment enfin l’image attendue. Mouvement devient subitement le tourbillon quasi-hypnotique voulu par Debussy, précédant ainsi les compositions minimalistes ou répétitives d’un Glass : c’est impressionnant. Jardins sous la pluie permet au pianiste de déployer une palette de couleurs infiniment irisées, du gris au plus éclatant soleil !
One of the most beautiful CDs
This is truly one of the most beautiful CD's I own. I first heard of it about 15 years ago, before I owned a CD player: I read in a British classical music magazine that Moravec's playing of Chopin was inspired and that his playing of Debussy was reason enough to buy a disc player. The writer called CD's “silver cookies” and this disc was right at the top of his list of ten favorites. I have listened over and over and still continue to marvel at the subtleties of Moravec's pianism. Gorgeous and delicate, but these are not wispy interpretations which melt like cotton candy. Moravec plays with strength. I love the Chopin CD and think it honestly compares favorably with Rubenstein, but it is the Debussy interpretations that have stayed with me and that I come back to time and time again for a 45 minute vacation from life in New York City. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Complete Penguin Stereo Record and Cassette Guide
A most distinguished recital. Wonderfully poetic and atmospheric playing, as one might expect from this fine Czech pianist. Indeed this is one of the most satisfying Debussy recitals on the market. Although Moravec is not a 'celebrity' in the UK, his playing is every bit as fine as the better-known names who figure in the current catalogue. This is really rather special.
Debussy was apparently intrigued by the number three - or, in any event, he especially liked to compose in the form of triptychs. His earliest important orchestral work, the Prelude à l'aprés-midi d'un faune, was originally conceived as the opening portion of a three-part treatment of Mallarmé's poem. Subsequently he composed each of his three most highly regarded works for orchestra in a tripartite format - the Nocturnes, La Mer, and Iberia, the last being actually a triptych-within-a-triptych, since it is the centerpiece of the Images pour orchestra, in whose broader design it is flanked by Gigues and Rondes de printemps. The triptych scheme may be noted in his piano music, too, if less consistently than among the orchestral works, and the piano Images may be cited as the most striking examples, since each of these sets is also in three movements, and there happen to be three sets of keyboard Images, though only two bear numbers because the third, actually the earliest, was for reasons unknown withheld from publication by Debussy and did not appear in print until some eighty-four years after its completion in 1894. The two sets that Debussy designated Series I and Series II were composed in 1905 and 1907, respectively, the former year having seen also the completion of La Mer and the beginning of work on the orchestral Images.
Like the orchestral masterwork completed in the same year, the first of the keyboard Images of 1905, Reflets dans 1'eau (“Reflections in the Water”), deals with a watery realm - but on a much smaller and more intimate scale. No vast seascape here, but a different sort of impression, suggesting a greater emphasis on that concept - the impression stimulated by a scene, rather than what might be regarded as even to a slight degree a graphic representation of that scene: and image, therefore imprinted by the stimulus, rather than an image of it.
There is nothing, at least on the surface, to relate the three components of this set to each other, either musically or “programmatically.” The second one, Hommage a Rameau, reflects Debussy's esteem not only for Rameau in particular but for the whole legacy of the early French keyboard masters. He described this noble piece as being “in the style of a sarabande,” and we may note that the corresponding segment of another of his three-part piano suites, Pour le piano, completed in 1901, is a Sarabande (one of the pieces orchestrated by Ravel), though in that case it was the Sarabandes composed in 1887 by Erik Satie that served as both inspiration and models.
The heading for the concluding segment, Mouvement, does not identify it as simply one of the three “movements”, but as an impression of animation. Debussy's marking, translated as “animated, with a capricious lightness, but precise,” suggests the piece as a keyboard counterpart to Fêtes, the second of the three Nocturnes for orchestra, and this piece, like that one, has a chorale-like middle section.
The second set of Images displays even more evocative titles for its three component sections, and these titles provide sufficient indication of the nature of the music. The first is Cloches à traverse les feuilles - “Bells through the leaves.” Next comes Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut - “And the moon descends on the temple that was.” Debussy's remark that he shaped that title “to form a perfect Alexandrine” would suggest that it had no more relevancy than the title of the Pavane pour une Infante défunte, which Ravel said he concocted “for the sheer pleasure of alliteration,” but the music itself does suggest that mythic “Orient” (not our Far East, but the land of the Arabian Nights enchantments) so beloved of French composers.
Des pas sur la neige (“Footprints in the Snow”), composed in 1909, is the sixth of the twelve Preludes, Book I, published the following year. The tempo marking is Triste et lent (Sad and slow), and Debussy noted that the music should suggest “a tender and sad regret” against the backdrop of “a sad, icy and limitless landscape.”
Some of the same programmatic motifs noted in the Images - water, Orientalism, night - are present also in the three-part Estampes (“Prints”), published in 1903 but possibly composed earlier. The first number, Pagodes, really refers to pagodas and not to the fairy-tale creatures pictured in the section of Ravel's Ma Mére l'Oye called Laideronnette, Impératrice des pagodes. This was in fact one of Debussy's productive responses to the stimulus of the Javanese gamelans he heard at the International Expositions of 1889 and 1900, and may be regarded as a more or less direct representation of their sounds in keyboard terms.
The second movement, Soirée dans Grenade ("Evening in Granada"), touches on the Spanish element that was by Debussy's time unshakably incorporated into the French musical tradition, and which played almost as conspicuous a part in his music as in that of Ravel. (Ravel, when he introduced his orchestral Rhapsodie espagnole in 1908, was suspected of having “borrowed” the Habenera movement from this piece of Debussy's, but of course he had actually composed the Habanera originally for two pianos in 1895.) This was one of the pieces that prompted
Manuel de Falla to comment on Debussy's success in capturing the authentic Spanish character without quoting folk material; Falla himself, in fact, quoted a theme from this piece in his memorial work Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy, composed for guitar in 1920 and subsequently orchestrated as part of a set of Homenajes. Jardins sous la pluie (“Gardens in the Rain”), the suite's concluding number, is not quite as languorous as its title might suggest. This toccata-like piece is based on two French nursery songs, primarily on Dodo, l'enfant do (“Sleep, child, sleep”) and secondarily on Nous n'irons plus au bois (“We'll go no more to the woods”). The latter, on which Debussy based the concluding portion of his 1894 keyboard Images, was to turn up yet again in Rondes de printemps, the last of the orchestral images, composed between 1905 and 1909.
It was probably in the dance forms that Chopin's greatest originality revealed itself. True, his approach to keyboard writing remained consistent from one genre to another, as did his basic melodic and harmonic language. But the stylized dance types, the nationalistic mazurka and polonaise especially, seem to have drawn from the composer a certain inspiration not to be found in his other works, including some of the most popular ones. This recording presents a cross-section of Chopin's work in three different dance forms, in the process offering a glimpse into his most personal musical life.
The musical dictionaries define a mazurka as a Polish national dance in triple meter and moderate speed, frequently with strong accents on the second or third beat. Also, say the dictionaries, the mazurka appeared in Germany in the mid-eighteenth century, spreading to France around 1800 and to England around 1830.
It was Chopin who established the mazurka as an art form, and he is the only composer whose name is closely linked to it (though later Polish composers, such as Szymanowski, wrote some interesting examples). Chopin was interested in the form all his life. He started composing the little dances as a student in Warsaw, he continued to compose them during his entire creative span, and he left a few with his effects after his death. All told, Chopin completed over fifty mazurkas.
They attracted his contemporaries as much as they interest present-day listeners. Robert Schumann was greatly impressed, and said as much in the Neue Zeitschrift. “Chopin has elevated the mazurka to a small art form and expression.” Liszt was equally taken, calling them “imperious, fantastic, and impulsive.” Despite the wide variety of moods expressed in the Chopin mazurkas, they all have certain things in common - the sharp metrical accents, the constant mixture of major and minor tonalities, and the frequently exotic scale patterns. They are short but distilled; they contain the essence of Chopin. “No compositions are so Chopin-ish as the Mazurkas,” wrote Huneker. Ironical, sad, sweet, joyous, morbid, sour, sane and dreamy, they illustrate what was said of their composer - “his heart is sad, his mind is gay” - Even more perceptive is Huneker's summing up: “As concise, even as curt as the Preludes, they are for the most part highly polished. They are dancing preludes, and often tiny single poems of great poetic intensity and passionate plaint.”
The waltz, as a musical and dance form, has been traced back to Vienna as long ago as 1660, but it did not take hold until the latter part of the eighteenth century. At that time it began to sweep through Europe - an irresistible sweep that was to culminate with the glories of the Strauss dynasty. Musicians naturally turned to the form. As danced by Austrian peasants, the waltz was called a Ländler, and Schubert wrote quite a few of them. Hundreds of now-forgotten composers of the early 1800s wrote waltz collections. Then Franz Lanner and the elder Strauss came on the scene; their popularity was enormous, as witnessed by the young Chopin when he came to Vienna in 1830. By 1834 the first of Chopin's many waltzes saw publication. Whereas the Strauss-Lanner type was a frankly commercial product - a brilliant one to be sure - Chopin's was a personal, introspective statement, even in his most objective examples. Schumann hit the nail exactly on the head when he wrote of Chopin's A-flat Waltz, Op. 42, that it was “a salon piece of the noblest kind; if he played it for dancers, Florestan thinks half of the ladies should be countesses at least. And he is right, for Chopin's waltz is aristocratic through and through.”
Assessing Chopin's waltzes is an assessment of the upper strata of Viennese and Parisian aristocracy. Chopin, himself a dandy and something of a snob, delighted to associate himself with titled ladies and gentlemen and the haut monde of his world. All of this is inescapably reflected in his waltzes. They are not dance music and have little to do with the German type of waltz. They are mostly miniatures, composed by one of the most perfect craftsmen of the nineteenth century, with all the painstaking attention to detail at his command. They abound in pianistic subtleties. Technically they are not of great difficulty, but musically they pose many problems of style, phrasing, and nuance. Chopin himself, a pianist without peer, has been described as playing his dance music (waltzes and mazurkas) in a completely free and spontaneous manner, with the most delicate of dynamic adjustments. He suggests more than he describes.
he polonaise, on the other hand, is extroverted, reflecting its origins as a march, a courtly march in triple time to whose rhythm the rich nobles paraded through their sovereign's palace. Traceable to the late sixteenth century, this form enjoyed the attentions of many prominent composers, among them Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber. Chopin wrote them throughout his life, but just as he transformed the etude, the waltz, and the mazurka, he left the mark of his mighty hand on this old country march. He was to impose a musical content on it to which even the genius of Liszt would have to conform. Profoundly Polish at heart, and to the end of his life attached to this country that he left at the age of twenty, never to return, Chopin lived to an intense degree the history of his land. We know how deeply he was affected by the fall of Warsaw in the Russian invasion of 1830. His Polonaises spring from his deepest feelings, from anger and hope that has been experienced. They portray now the glorious past of Poland, her heroes and her courtiers, richly appareled, now her sorrows and her ruins, now the rebellions of a people who have never accepted defeat. And through them all shines a complete picture of the personality of Chopin, at once lover, poet, virtuoso, and patriot.