“There is here ample fire, ample virtuosity, ample poetry, ample lyricism, and much beautiful sound... but the major characteristic of the performance is richness”
Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
2Intermezzo. Andantino grazioso
4César Franck Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Václav Neumann cond.
Schumann Kinderszenen, Op. 15
5 I. Von fremden Ländern und Menschen
6 II. Kuriose Geschichte
7 III. Hasche-Mann
8 IV. Bittendes Kind
9 V. Glückes genug
10 VI. Wichtige Begebenheit
11 VII. Träumerei
12 VIII. Am Kamin
13 IX. Ritter vom Steckenpferd
14 X. Fast zu ernst
15 XI. Fürchtenmachen
16 XII. Kind im Einschlummern
17 XIII. Der Dichter spricht
Format: ADD (tracks 1-4), DDD (tracks 5-17)
Make no mistake about it, Ivan Moravec ranks among the handful of today's (and any day's) keyboard geniuses. His recordings tend to come few and far between, so it's especially exciting to be able to welcome these transcendent interpretations back into the catalog. This Schumann concerto certainly belongs among the best ever recorded. From the opening note you can tell something special is happening: those marvelous Czech winds, the pure poetry that marks Moravec's phrasing of the opening tune, the steady way soloist and conductor call the orchestra to life in the ensuing transition, the chamber music-like exchanges between Moravec and the Czech Philharmonic, his willingness to accompany when the music calls for it--all of these traits bear the hallmarks of true greatness. And make no mistake, for all his sensitivity to nuance, Moravec's vision of this music has no inhibitions whatsoever. Listen to how, for example, he takes the first movement recapitulation with more confidence than the first time around, no mere literal repeat, or to the huge wall of piano sound he conjures up in the same movement's closing two or three minutes. Similarly, the finale swings with an impetuous rhythmic thrust almost physical in its impact. What a joy this performance is!
Moravec's Franck Symphonic Variations manage to combine both suave elegance and brilliance in perfect proportion. The way Moravec coaxes the maximum intensity of sound from the upper registers of the keyboard without ever becoming clattery or shrill is simply marvelous, and once again Neumann and the Czech Phil offer spirited support. In Kinderszenen Moravec takes center stage alone, with no less delicious results. In Hasche-Mann, he demonstrates that the appearance of speed depends as much on articulation and balance of tone as on sheer velocity; while Träumerei proves conclusively that there's a big difference between being dreamy and being catatonic. Supraphon's remastering has these recordings sounding better than ever. In particular, they've managed to tame the Rudolfinum's vast reverberation without undue spotlighting or compromise in clarity. Pianophiles rejoice!
Intelligent und generös
Jeder Versuch, das Klaveirspiel von Ivan Moravec mit einem Schlagwort zu charakterisieren, muss zwangsläufig scheitern. Zu komplex sind seine Interpretationen. Viele pianistische Tugenden vereinen sich hier mit einer solchen Selbstverständlichkeit, als sei gleichermaßen intelligentes wie klanglich generöses Musizieren das Selbstverständlichste von der Welt. Phänomenal ist Moravecs jugendlich-blühender Ton mit exquisiten Phrasierungen in Schumanns Klavierkonzert, hervorragend begleitet von der Tschechischen Philharmonie unter Václav Neumann. Die Kinderszenen dagegen gleichen in ihrer magischen Entrücktheit einer transzendentalen Studie über verlorene Gefühlswelten, während die Franck-Variationen fast asketisch erscheinen, wobei Moravecs glitzernde Brillanz dennoch voll zur Geltung kommt.
... Diese Aufnahmen machen unmissvertändlich deutlich, wie weit Moravec, der mehr an der Vermittlung von Musik arbeitet als an der Vermarktung seiner Person, selbst vom Gros der besten Pianisten entfernt ist.
KlassicNet Editor's Choice
Readers interested in a recording of the Schumann concerto by a living artist should opt for Czech pianist Ivan Moravec on Supraphon.
Schumann's A Minor Piano Concerto is not only one of the great masterpieces of the repertoire but one of the great touchstones as well. One can tell a lot about a pianist from his performance of it. It is not an easy piece of music for pianists to ignore, and most of the major ones have had a shot at recording it at one time or another, producing a quantity of high-level renditions that is matched by few other works. However, it is not the quantity and quality of the many recordings that are impressive, but the great variety of the interpretations. Poetic, intellectual, classical, romantic, inward, extroverted, and all-out virtuoso approaches all have something to bring to the music which, purely as an arrangement of notes, 'works' so well as to leave ample room for interpretative latitude.
Such an introduction seems necessary because the latest recording of the Schumann concerto - by Ivan Moravec with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Václav Neumann on the Supraphon label - is a rendition like none I have ever heard before. How to describe it? Well, one might say it seems to have more notes in it than any other performance. Now, obviously, the artists play the same score that everybody else does, but one is made to hear more of it - counterpoint, inner voices, bass accents, accompanimental figurations - so that the whole work seems immeasurably richer in musical material. As a result, the time scale of the music seems to lengthen and one gets pulled more and more into it. There is here, particularly on Moravec's part, ample fire, ample virtuosity, ample poetry, ample lyricism, and much beautiful sound, but the major characteristic of the performance is richness: nothing is thrown away, nothing is submerged, every detail is given its individual weight and nuance and integrated into the fabric.
Moravec does not make it all sound easy. The very approach sets up a tension at the beginning of the concerto - the tension inherent in any attempt to do something tremendously difficult and do it perfectly - which is not resolved until the very end of the concerto. The triumph at the end - because one has felt the tension throughout, manipulated in different ways through the opening, the slow movement, and the finale - is overwhelming. It is, on the one hand, a lesson in what the Romantic solo concerto is all about and, on the other hand, a representation of the work as chamber music on the grandest possible scale.
The Franck Symphonic Variations, too, offered here to fill out the second side, is not your usual light-handed, lighthearted French performance, but one that probes every expressive nuance. If the interpretation has a flaw it is that it exposes the work's inherent propensity merely to stop rather than to end.
Doubtless there are better orchestras in the world today than the Czech Philharmonic, and better and more renowned conductors than Neumann, but it is hard to see how their contributions here could be improved upon. What Moravec offers is what I have come, over the years, finally to recognize as a typical Moravec performance, what makes him, for me, one of the greatest pianists in the world today. The Czech recording engineers have done nobly (a little overbalance in favor of the piano is evident at moments in the first movement), and playback in SQ four-channel adds a bit more depth. Only the necessity of breaking the Schumann concerto between the second and third movements produces any real drawbacks to this issue, but I do not see, checking the timings, how the music could have been arranged otherwise. The Schumann concerto is not a work to be known through a single recording, no matter how good, but this record is basic in any library.
The Franck recalls something of Cortot's proud rhetoric, while Moravec thoroughly matches Rubinstein's sparkle and style. The pianist takes the stage for himself in Kinderszenen... and invests Schumann's evocative cycle with original touches that only fortify what the composer had in mind.
New York Times, June 3, 1984
It is a warmly, surely played disk, reminiscent of Rubinstein's gracious authority.
American Record Guide
Ivan Moravec's mastery of tone is legendary, and these performances show that legend and fact are sometimes one and the same...The Schumann manages to balance poetry and energy in near-perfect equilibrium. The Kinderszenen, from 1987, is an alluring reading--the famous 'Traumerei' is otherworldly but not lethargic, and the pianist's sensitivity is manifest in every bar. Lovers of the piano, and pianists (aspiring or otherwise) should not miss this one.
American Record Guide
These are polished, ultra-sensitive performances that eschew any trace of Teutonic heaviness. Moravec conveys a multitude of color and character in the thirteen pieces of Kinderszenen.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) began his first attempt at composing a concerto for the piano at a time when he was still intending to pursue a career as a concert pianist; this was prior to the partial paralysis that later occurred in one of his hands as a result of excessive and, primarily, incorrect practice, following which he settled once and for all for the career of a composer. This early attempt, however - made in 1830 when the composer was twenty years old - came to a standstill whilst still in the stages of planning, and it was probably his distaste for the traditional concerto style that was to deter Schumann from the idea of piano concerto composition for a long time afterwards.
In January 1839 Schumann wrote to Clara from Vienna: “I can see that I am incapable of writing a concerto for the virtuoso; I must turn my thoughts to something else.” Schumann had no desire to compose a concerto for mere virtuoso effect, one that would dazzle audiences with shallow bravura in the popular style; his wish was to produce a work along the lines of the Beethovenian ‘symphonic’ concerto type. And so in 1841 he composed the single-movement Phantasie in A minor for piano and orchestra, a monothematic work whose one central motif gives rise not only to two subsidiary themes but also to a new thematic idea at the close. (The motif is inspired by the melody of Florestan’s aria at the beginning of the second act of Beethoven’s Fidelio.) This was a huge innovation. The highly concentrated nature of its treatment of thematic material makes this work markedly different from the shallow concertos of Kalkbrenner, Thalberg and Hummel, in which formal schemes are filled out with superficial technical display for the soloist and the orchestral accompaniment is conceived merely as scenic backdrop.
However, when his offer of a completed Allegro affettuoso to the Leipzig publisher Kistner & Härtel proved unsuccessful Schumann was obliged to put his revolutionary one-movement idea to one side until a later date four years thence, when he reworked the piece into a classical three-movement structure. This was Schumann’s last concession to tradition, however, and it was only a partial concession at that, for the thematic material of the two additional movements is very closely linked with the principal theme of the first. His monothematicism has thus spread to become a feature of the new whole and, moreover, with such ingenious subtlety that on first hearing this work the listener has no idea as to the true complexity of its thematic structure. For the various themes, with their one common ‘ancestor’, are worked out in such a manner as to be surprisingly in contrast with one another.
This concerto is a synthesis in the best sense of the word; it very happily combines discipline and free play, logical procedure and imaginative thought, in a poetically intense whole that never for a moment loses sight of its shape and form. Solo part and orchestra are joined here in a true musical partnership that provides the pianist with a good deal of virtuoso material without ever resorting to mere tawdry effect. Schumann himself saw this concerto as being “something between a symphony, a concerto and a large-scale sonata”. It was first performed on 4th December 1845 in Dresden, with the composer’s wife Clara at the piano and Ferdinand Hiller as conductor.
In all periods of music history great composers have paused to return for a while to the games and the boundless imagination of childhood in the search for a purer source of inspiration for musical works whose rare simplicity will allow their creative genius to shine through. Schumann undertook his journey back to the poetic world of childhood in 1838, during the period of his growing love for Clara Wieck, the concert pianist who was eventually to become his wife. From the series of thirty miniature pieces that resulted he then selected the thirteen that were dearest to him and published them under the collective title Kinderszenen. These pieces are not for children, however - as was the case with the composer’s Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young) - but about children. Indeed, only the most talented young beginner will succeed in mastering them; they are easier to listen to than they are to play. With their uncomplicated means of expression, their simplicity of form (generally tripartite), their singing melodies and warm lyricism and their imaginative rhythmic writing these masterly little miniatures win the hearts of adults and children alike and offer the easiest route to an understanding of the poeticism in Schumann’s music. It is encouraging to know that even pianists of renown ‘venture’ to include them in their concert programmes from time to time.
French Romantic composer César Franck (1822-1890) composed his Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra during the last phase of his career, at a time when the poor, misunderstood and aging artist was about to produce his great musical testimony, the Symphony in D minor. The atmosphere of that symphony, with its lack of listener ‘appeal’, its contemplative questioning and its constant striving to overcome a burdensome pessimism and replace it with a passionate love of life, can already be felt in the Variations. This is, in actual fact, a single-movement piano concerto in which Franck has combined elements of sonata and variation form to great effect through the use of two contrasting and yet mutually compatible musical subjects. At its first performance - which took place a year after its composition - the work won favour both with the public and with those musicians who were fond of Franck’ s exceptionally rich chromatic language, his masterly orchestration and - in the case of the Variations symphoniques - the refined artistic intelligence with which he accommodates both soloist and orchestra in matters of technique as well as in passages of stirring lyricism.
Following his studies in Prague and his attendance at masterclasses with Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli in Italy, Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (born 1930) gave debut performances with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Karel Ancerl, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt in London, and with the Cleveland Orchestra and Georg Szell in Cleveland and New York. He has worked with many conductors of world renown (including Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Erich Leinsdorf, Mariss Jansons, Edo de Waart and Simon Rattle) as well as with leading Czech conductors.
A good many of the numerous gramophone recordings that Ivan Moravec has made for foreign companies and on the Czech Supraphon label have been nominated Recording of the Year in specialist music magazines. Besides the several recordings he has made with the Czech Philharmonic (including, for example, that of the two Brahms concertos with Czech conductor Jirí Belohlávek) and a live recording with the Dallas Symphony and Eduardo Mata, he also joined Sir Neville Mariner and the orchestra of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to record the Mozart piano concertos in a project that was voted best recording in the field of 18th-century music at the MIDEM festival in Cannes.
The Union of American Radio Stations also nominated Ivan Moravec for the title ‘Player of the Year 1997’ in recognition of the concert performances he has given in the United States. Philips have included two of his recordings in their Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century anthology.