SU 1993-2 031
“an intensely emotional experience. Moravec gives us a memorable Brahms experience that every lover of this great Concerto should hear. ”
This recording has been remastered and replaced in the Supraphon catalog by Brahms Piano Concertos, SU 3865-2, which includes both Brahms concertos on a single CD.
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
3Rondo - Allegro non troppo
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, cond.
Producer: Jaroslav Rybar
Recorded in Dvorak Hall of Rudolfinum, Prague on 26.9 and 1-4.10.1989.
On a cold winter day in 1989, I heard Ivan Moravec give a revelatory performance of this Brahms concerto with my hometown orchestra, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic The concerto has long been a favorite of mine, and I’ve heard many performances and almost every famous recording of it, along with quite a few not so famous. Yet I truly don’t think I had ever heard so powerfully poetic and overtly emotional a performance of the piece as Moravec gave that night. After the concert, Moravec told me he had just made a recording of the piece, and that he was very satisfied with it.
More than two years later, that recording has finally come along, and it is just as satisfying as the performance I heard, Although he has all the technique in the world, Moravec has no interest in making a display piece out of this concerto. He plays the famously difficult double octaves in the first movement with crushing, monumental power. yet there is no hint of showing off, just superlative execution of an emotional climax. The second movement is so intimate and personal it almost gives me the sensation of eavesdropping on something I wasn’t meant to overhear. (I got a similar feeling from Radu Lupu’s LP of the same conccrto, now on London 417 776-2, but Lupu’s playing of the outer movements was simply too sluggish to bear.) Here the orchestra under Belohlavek manges the very difficult feat of matching the soloist’s expression, wish some playing that is breathtakingly soft yet meaningful. On first hearing, the Rondo seemed a little underanimated (I had no such trouble with the more vivid situation of the live performance), but repeated listening reveals how Moravec integrates this movement into the whole of the work rather than letting it run away.
In short, I feel this recording reveals important aspects of Brahms’s music which I have not heard before. Many listeners love the expressive qualities of the Curzon/Szell performance (now a bargain on London 417641 -2), and I have finally warmed to this performance after years of finding it too restrained. But I feel Moravec exceeds Curzon’s accomplishment at both ends of the emotional spectrum, and that he has here given us a performance for the ages.
Belohlavek and the splendid orchestra second Moravec’s expressive intents nobly throughout the performance. Unfortunately, they are not quite as well treated by the recording engineers as Moravec. The piano tone is splendidly realistic and full, but there is sometimes a harsh edge to the string sound. Still, this is a performance that would be well worth hearing if it were dubbed from 78s, so I won’t worry too much about minor sonic deficiencies.
I can’t help wishing that Supraphon had talked Moravec into giving us more Brahms solo piano music as a bonus. He plays the one Intermezzo so beautifully that I am left wanting even more, Still, we do have an encore, and frankly I’d consider paying the price of a CD for even seven minutes of this kind of piano playing.
This is one of the greatest performances I have heard in my reviewing career, and it is urgently recommended. And here’s more good news: Moravec and Belohlavek recorded the Brahms Second Concerto at about the same time. I hope Supraphon doesn’t make us wait another two years for it.
Ivan Moravec's performance of this work is a revelation. Without slighting its exciting virtuoso elements, he makes the entire piece into a poetic statement of Brahms that proves far more moving than more standard interpretations. As Moravec plays, it's not only the slow movement that sings; the whole piece becomes an intensely emotional experience, showing us the fervent young composer as well as the conquering young virtuoso. With the powerful support of Jiri Belohlavek and the great orchestra, Moravec gives us a memorable Brahms experience that every lover of this great Concerto should hear.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), his first symphonic work in fact, is one of the highlights of the composer's early output. The history of its creation is quite extraordinary: the earliest version was composed in 1854 (i. e. at the age of 21) in the immediate vicinity of the two piano sonatas, in C major, Op. 1, and in F minor, op. s, as a sonata for two pianos. The composer then thought about reworking this (as yet unpublished) piece in the form of symphony. It was only later, probably in the course of 1855, that he decided definitively to make of it a concerto for piano and orchestra, because, among other things, he could not and did not want to give up altogether the original idea of piano sound. He eventually took over from the early sonata and the planned symphony only the first movement, while he composed an entirely new slow movement and final Rondo. (He later reworked the slow movement from the sonata for two pianos and used it as second movement in his German Requiem.) The interval of another two years then separated the premiere of the work in Hanover and Leipzig in January 1859 (which was not particularly successful and in which the composer performed the solo part, as he did on other occasions later) and its publication. In the course of these two years, the composer made other substantial changes in the score, especially in the last movement.
Even the final version of Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 bears traces of the complicated process of its creation. In contrast to period convention, the orchestra plays a more important, and probably even decisive, role, which is particularly obvious in the first movement. The piano, on the other hand, however technically demanding the part is, is rather a chamber partner, or counterpart, than a dominant, virtuoso soloist As regards thematic and motivic work, we can discern (especially in the first movement again) procedures which Arnold Schoenberg later gave the name developing variations, meaning that the thematic and motivic material of the whole movement, nearly all remote variants, and the apparently new, contrasting forms in the leading and accompanying voices, are gradually derived from a single core. Regardless of a certain looseness and the rhapsodic character of the basic solution of form, the resultant form makes the impression of being unusually concise and compact which the listener perceives, or rather feels, without being able to analytically realize the context. (The form, however, is not entirely free, and the plan of the introductory sonata-form movement in the instrumental concerto is quite clearly preserved here.) The second movement, Adagio in D major, in 6/4 time, is a relatively brief, ternary form, with a cadenza of the soloist before the finale, and a short coda. The programme motto in the autograph score - which is a quotation from the text of the penultimate part of the Ordinary of the Mass, Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini, was left out by the composer in the published version. The final large Rondo (Allegro non troppo) with three themes offers - unlike the preceding movements - more room to the soloist on the piano to display his virtuosity and expression.