“an intensely emotional experience. Moravec gives us a memorable Brahms experience that every lover of this great Concerto should hear. ”
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
3Rondo - Allegro non troppo
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, cond.
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 83
1Allegro non troppo
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, cond.
Original recording sessions:
Concerto No. 1: Fanfare
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.
Concerto No. 1: Amazon.com
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.
Czech out the Brahms 2nd
I have many performances of Brahms Piano Concerto #2 including Arrau, Ax, Barenboin, Fleisher, Gilels, Horowitz, Hough, Richter and Zimerman. I purchased Moravec's recording because, in my experience, he often has something unique to say about the music. I am very pleased with this recording. There are all the individual touches I expected in a performance by Moravec and the stereo sound is beautiful (this is a 1988 digital recording). Probably the most unusual aspect of the recording is the outstanding playing by the Czech Philharmonic. The ensemble is unusually tight, and the level of orchestral detail is more apparent in this recording than others. Given that Brahms' concerto is like a chamber piece writ large, the presence of the additional detail is most welcome. This recording has become a very welcome addition to my collection. I recommend it highly.
Brahms Concerto No. 1
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.
Brahms Concerto No. 2
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed four instrumental concertos with orchestra (including the Double Concerto in A minor, op. 102). Though relatively few, they are of great artistic value, and each of them is a milestone in both the composer's development, and within the literature for the respective instrument. The above holds also for Brahms's penultimate composition of this type, namely his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83. It is a mature work which the composer began to write in spring 1878, or shortly after he had finished Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73, and which he completed in summer 1881, having in the meantime written, among others, the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, Violin Sonata in G major, op. 78, and Two Rhapsodies for Piano, Op. 79. The Concerto was first performed on 9 November that year in Pest with the composer on the piano again as so often before.
The piano part in the Concerto in B-flat major makes great demands on the performer's technique, and the wide chordal and octave spans, the jumps into extreme positions alternating with rapid scale and chordal passages in both hands and, last but not least, the sheer length of the composition which clearly exceeds hitherto convention, also require from the performer a good physical condition and psychic concentration. As in Brahms' other works of this type, virtuosity is not in the centre of attention and is not an end in itself. The orchestra plays an equally important part. The symphonic claim in this perfect combination of concerto and symphony is manifested by the existence of four, instead of the usual three, movements with a scherzo having been inserted between the first and the slow middle movement.
The first movement (Allegro non troppo) begins - quite unusually - with a cadenza of the solo piano alternating, only in the introductory bars, with the unison of the French horns and the harmony of woodwind. (It is the only cadenza in the concerto.) Thematic and motivic work -influenced by the music of the Viennese classics and particularly Beethoven - is ubiquitous in Brahms. It pervades the movement throughout, from the first to the last bars, and is not limited to sonata-form development or the linking and modulation parts of exposition and recapitulation, as it had been in the work of his predecessors.
The second movement, an excited and restless Scherzo (Allegro appassionato) in D minor also links up with the tradition of Beethoven's symphonic scherzos. It is in the conventional ternary form with the contrasting middle part (trio, maggiore) in the D major key. The first section returns, however, considerably changed, as variations.
The third movement (Andante) is relatively short - as a stop, or rest, or intermezzo in 6/4 time - remarkable particularly for the more prominent part of some instruments in the orchestra, such as the cello in the beginning and shortly before the end, and the clarinets somewhat later, which enter into instrumental dialogue with the solo piano, as its effective counterpart in terms of sound colour. The modulation plan is equally colourful, based on a chromatic relationship between keys a third apart - B-flat major, D-flat major, and F-sharp major.
The final movement (Allegretto grazioso) in 2/4 time is a sonata-form rondo whose overall plan and the character of the individual thematic sections make it akin to the analogical movements in the sonatas and symphonies of Franz Schubert. It does not bring any other brilliant culmination or retum to the dramatic pathos of the first and second movements, but is rather a conciliatory lyrical closure of Brahms' impressive, monumental opus.