“Many critics consider this the greatest set of the Chopin Nocturnes ever recorded.”
This is playing that draws the listener deeply into the music—you are not drawn into Moravec’s achievement, but Chopin’s.
1B-flat minor Op. 9 No. 1
2E-flat Op. 9 No. 2
3B Op. 9 No. 3
4F Op. 15 No. 2
5F-sharp Op. 15 No. 2
6G minor Op. 15 No. 3
7C-sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1
8D-flat major Op. 27 No. 2
9B Op. 32 No. 1
10A-flat Op. 32 No. 2
1G minor Op. 37 No. 1
2G Op. 37 No. 2
3C minor Op. 48 No. 1
4F-sharp minor Op. 48 No. 2
5F minor Op. 55 No. 1
6E-flat major Op. 55 No. 2
7B Op. 62 No. 2
8E Op. 62 No. 2
9E minor Op. 72 No. 1
Original session 1965, New York and Vienna
Every nocturne presents a new interpretive joy. “[Chopin’s] imagination, his fancy, was so extraordinary that you can simply play one composition after another and each of them will have its particular world.” So says Moravec himself, and then he proves it.
... The real gem of the re-release is the booklet, which contains a four-page interview with Moravec himself. Aside from the remark above, he talks about the experience of hearing these recordings after fifty years, the state of pianism today, his care in selecting a piano, and one or two odd revelations. “You know,” he blurts out, “my true love is actually singing.” This may well explain the songlike nature of his playing.
These recordings were produced in 1965 by E. Alan Silver for his highly respected Connoisseur Society label, and the set became an instant classic on its release. Nonesuch’s reissue (which dates from 1991) captures the rich, warm sound of the originals perfectly. Despite the competition, which includes famous complete sets by Rubinstein and Nikita Magaloff, it is these Moravec performances to which I return again and again.
What is it that most clearly defines the uniqueness of Moravec’s readings? It is not one quality, but rather a combination which includes an extraordinary ear for harmonic motion and development, an ability to extract a very wide range of color from the instrument, a flowing legato that virtually eliminates bar-lines, and perhaps most notably an infinite range of dynamics.
Moravec produces more shades between mp and pp than almost any pianist in my experience, except perhaps for his idol Michelangeli. And at the other end of the dynamic spectrum he manages a variety of forte and fortissimo colors that never turn harsh. Moravec also shapes each one of these 19 gems perfectly—building to the climax at precisely the right point. Time after time, one catches one’s breath at a particularly felicitous turn of phrase or a perfectly balanced voicing, or a remarkably original (but in no way fussy) tempo adjustment. Most often, though, it is the complete mastery of dynamics that makes one wonder how it is that this one pianist finds shadings that seem beyond virtually everyone else. This is playing that draws the listener deeply into the music—you are not drawn into Moravec’s achievement, but Chopin’s. The music flows with such an utterly natural motion that you cannot imagine it going any other way.
These are among the great piano recordings of the 20th century, and the set belongs in any serious collection of keyboard music.
Amazon.com - “Essential Recording!”
If Moravec had made only these recordings, he would still be esteemed as one of our greatest pianists. He makes the piano sing throughout this set — coloring the music with exquisite tonal shadings, reflecting the changes of mood with total conviction, and providing moment after moment of revelatory beauty. Many critics consider this the greatest set of the Chopin Nocturnes ever recorded, even finer than the superb stereo set by Rubinstein on RCA. The 1966 recordings, made in two different venues, are still outstanding examples of beautiful-sounding, realistic piano sound.
Nun spielt Ivan Moravec - glücklicherweise - nicht nur einen Ton. Was hat also die Geschichte mit ihm und den Nocturnes von Chopin zu tun? Es ist so: Bei Ivan Moravec habe ich das Empfinden, dass eigentlich jeder Ton in einer Vollkommenheit leuchtet, die wohl kaum zu überbieten ist. Was dieser Mensch dem Piano für Töne entlockt, ist eigentlich kaum noch mit Worten zu beschreiben. Schon der Beginn ist atemberaubend schön. Und dabei ist es nicht nur ein vollendet virtuoses Spiel, sondern Moravec trifft damit die Seele seiner Hörer.
I'm another fervent devotee of this set. Moravec's playing is really in a class of its own - and I agree with all those that claim this set sits above those by Rubinstein. Where Moravec gains over most other pianists is that he is never inclined to 'over-play' these miniature masterpieces, always highlighting the dreaming, the mystery and the longing in the music. His pianissimo is surely one of the best in the business- and just listen to his exquisitely floated filigree, for example in the coda of the D flat major. I would regard this set as a 'must-have'!
Among the greatest recordings of all time
Of the lovely, perfumed — and profound — Chopin nocturnes there are by now more than a dozen excellent, seamless, sensitive, well-recorded performances. Only one of them, however, qualifies as transcendental. Ivan Moravec treats each precious jewel as if it were Chopin's final statement to the world, or the last piece of music ever to be played. Every note, every shading, every nuance is endowed with ultimate significance. If God commanded me to justify man's existence, I think I'd hand Him these two CDs. When I heard the Connoisseur Society LPs in the sixties, I was stunned. I felt that the music, familiar as it was, was being fully revealed for the first time. I awaited the CDs eagerly and now own several sealed copies, just so I know I'll never be without them. Uncountable listenings have not dimmed the glory of this "desert island" recording. Lipatti, Friedman, and Cortot had deep insight into these masterpieces and gave superb performances of individual nocturnes, but no other set matches Moravec's. I do listen to other pianists — Arrau, Wehr — when I want to enjoy the beauty of the Chopin nocturnes but feel unable to handle the full emotional jolt from Ivan Moravec. The recorded sound is superb by any standards.
Now please, the SACD. I'll pay ANY price!
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.
Divine: Best of the best!
Thanks to your reviewers that I have discovered Chopin's Nocturnes by pianist Ivan Moravec. I already own interpretations by Rubinstein, Arrau, Peres and Cortot. This is in my humble opinion the very very best. Cortot then comes the closest but with a sound from the 30s. Rubinstein is good of course, but believe me, if you like Chopin's Nocturnes then you MUST hear Moravec's interpretation! It's the closest to the composer one can get. Absolutely natural and divine!
Chopin As Chopin Would Want To Hear It
This recording of the complete nocturnes is not only the best recording of the nocturnes available; it is also, in my opinion, the very best of any Chopin recording on the market. This is Chopin as he would have played it. Unfortunately, too many pianists today play Chopin with the mood shifts and tonal extremes that you would expect of Beethoven. Moravec, never one to show off, plays these Nocturnes just right. The recorded sound and tone of the piano is simply the most beautiful I've ever heard. The playing sounds quite effortless and the rubato is just right. I have never heard Chopin played more lyrically than on this recording. The amazing sound quality, the tone produced by Moravec, and quite simply the incredible interpretations make this the best Chopin album available.
My all-time favorite
After some research here at Amazon, I selected this set. I am amazed at the beauty of the music on these CDs - absolute, timeless perfection. I have found a few other releases of Moravec performing Chopin - I wish I could find more.
Top Choice for Chopin Nocturnes
The Nocturnes, as some of the most important works of the Romantic piano genre, and some of Chopin's most personal expressions, have been represented in many outstanding recordings by many first rate pianists. But as a recording of the complete nocturnes (albeit omitting several posthumous nocturnes), Moravec is my first recommendation. Moravec is a pianist who takes so much care in mastering his repertoire that, while not having as many recordings as other first rate pianists, tends to be near definitive in the recordings he does make. Moravec has clearly mastered the nocturnes, note by note and feeling by feeling. I cannot listen to this recording without being deeply moved, oftentimes to tears. Also, according to critics, an advantage of Moravec's Chopin is that he tends to play most like what Chopin probably would have played himself. For collectors of piano recordings, my two recommendations for the complete nocturnes are the present recording, and the one made by Rubinstein in the 1930s. Both should belong to any serious piano collection.
A performer who feels and understands every note
Like most listeners, I ordinarily find Rubinstein the most satisfactory overall performer for almost everything Chopin composed. But in the Nocturnes, IMHO, Moravec has outdone even Rubinstein. I have the complete Nocturnes by both pianists, and so I set my CD player to compare the two recordings for each individual nocturne side by side. Rubinstein's performance isn't bad, of course, but there is an audibly greater degree of comfort and depth of understanding in Moravec's playing. (I should also note that Moravec's recording has the benefit of better sound.) Moravec seems to have internalized the music and made it entirely his own. It almost sounds as if he were the composer as well as the soloist, so directly do these performances seem to come from the heart. Occasionally Rubinstein sounds halting or tentative, but Moravec never does. You can't go wrong with these!
Divine piano music
I received this CD only a week ago and have played it numerous times since. I'm not a pro when it comes to piano music and the art of playing piano but this music sounds as if it were made in heaven. Very sensitive and perfect for relaxation. I would recommend this CD to ANYONE who loves music (in general). Buy it and you will experience the joy of music that touches the mere depths of your soul.
Stunning performances. Haunting piano sound
I have listened to these for nearly 30 years, since their days on LP. I would choose these over the truly excellent Rubinstein performances.
So many people can't be wrong :)
This also is my music recording to die for. I have a ton (too much in fact) of solo piano recordings and I come back to this one recording time and time again. The tone, voicing, and control Moravec has in these recordings is transcendental. The recorded sound of the piano is also excellent. I'm curious as to what piano is being played because it has a remarkable tone as well. It sounds like a Mason and Hamlin in the treble. The bass is also very warm. Moravec also has a really good Mozart recording on VAI Audio. Also check out the Moravec Mazurkas (sprinkled across a couple of VAI Audio discs) - while different than most interpretations of these pieces I think they are compelling. I hope you enjoy this recording!
Extremely Sensitive Playing, with clear voicing
In my opinion, this is one of the best recordings there its kind. With very lyrical tones and clear voicing. Colors are well defined. There is great depth in Ivan's playing, a very intimate quality that penetrates to the soul.
AT THE BEGINNING and at the end of his creative career -through literally half his lifetime - Frederic Chopin (1810-49) was composing Nocturnes. The earliest of those that have come down to us dates from 1827 (the year of Beethoven's death, the year before Schubert's), when Chopin was still a student at the Warsaw Conservatory. The last Nocturne was written in 1846, when the now-famous composer already had withdrawn from the world he so quickly conquered because he was himself preparing to die. He never reached his fortieth birthday.
At least chronologically, then, the Nocturnes span virtually the whole of Chopin's meteoric artistic life. But it is also defensible to suggest that they define, as did each of the genres he made his own, one or more dimensions of a style so very original, so unmistakable, that it must be accounted among the handful of truly unique dialects in the so-called “universal language” of music.
Nor does it diminish this achievement to observe that Chopin came along at just the right time. For no one ever is untouched by his Zeitgeist;, presumably (even if Chopin claimed to be). Remember that it was the second quarter of the nineteenth century that saw the burgeonings — in music — of that special aesthetic known as romanticism. In terms of the tonal art that may be described as the triumph of subjective, emotional, and otherwise personal expression over the imperatives of formal structure. It has been said of this movement that it “began as gun powder, continued as magic powder, and ended as sleeping powder”. The miracle of Chopin is that he compounded all three of these elements in an infinite variety, and moreover that his formulae have lost none of their efficacy through a dozen decades.
Pondering the forces that shaped this hypercreative and complicated psyche is ever a fascination. Consider: Chopin had been born in a vanquished nation that was writhing under the heel of mighty and covetous neighbors. His mother, fiercely Polish, was lady-in-waiting to a countess. His father, an egalitarian from Lorraine, was an erstwhile snuff salesman and sometime flute teacher whose urbane ways endeared him to the nobility. Their son was to be forever torn between the environmental polarities to which he was heir-social graces and social justice.
And indeed, these polarities coexist in many of his characteristic works. Of course those who persist in regarding the music of Chopin as all lavender and lace will discern only the graces, and it is a fact that he spent much of his brief life as a chronically lovesick dandy in yellow gloves and patent leather shoes. But his vision of the world was not limited to the perfumed parlors in which he passed those years, for he never once relinquished his fantasy-role as the expatriate savior of hapless Poland. He pursued this mission mostly in letters, to be sure; and it might be argued that his patriotism was somewhat smaller than that of his countrymen under arms. But the measure of Chopin as an artist, finally, is that none of his character defects is to be inferred in his compositions. No bloody battles ever bespoke, as Chopin's music so often does, a man's tender devotion to his homeland. Here was the compleat composer-liberator manque.
The Nocturnes have little to do with Poland programmatically, as it happens - except to the extent that another Parisian emigre, the Missouri-born Virgil Thomson, once said of his years of pilgrimage that he spent them on the banks of the Seine composing music about Kansas City. That Chopin spent his Paris years in the flickering half-light of fashionable drawing rooms, his every hour circumscribed by solicitous patronesses, tells us nothing of what his music was about. We know that there were enough Heines and Hillers around to keep alive his innermost spirit, but then again the flame that burned brightest for him may have been the torch he was constantly carrying for one or another inamorata. Even in his affairs of the heart, however, there were nationalist overtones in every significant instance prior to his celebrated eight-year liaison with the novelist George Sand (less well known by her real name: the Baronne Amandine Aurore Lucie Dudevant, nee Dupin).
For example, during the winter of 1836-37 the lovelorn Chopin brought his amorous travail to the teacups of a certain Madame Lenormand, who told fortunes in a miserable hovel on the Rue Tournon. The unresponsive object of the composer's affections just then was Maria Wodzinska, a high-born young lady whose principal charms may have been, in whatever order, her inaccessibility and her fervent lip service to the cause of their common mother country: “We still regret that your name is not Chopinski,” she had written to him, “or that there is no other sign showing you are a Pole.” (This episode was more or less contemporaneous with the two Op. 32 Nocturnes.)
However, Chopin's dilemma over Maria Wodzinska was only one of a series. The biographer Casimir Wierzynski concludes that “in this weak organism there raged a violent and unsatisfied hunger, the need for love.” And Wierzynski lends credence to the spiteful estimate of La Sand: “... that he fell in love with three women every night; he would succeed in persuading each that she was the only one, and then forget all when he returned home.” Maybe so, because it had been only a very short time before his visit to the fortune teller that he bade farewell to Delpine Potocka, to whom he had dedicated his F minor Concerto. And yet this work had been inspired, professedly, by yet another young lady (Konstancja Gladkowska). And so it went. De la musique pure was not Chopin's sole preoccupation.
The clinically-minded are bound to inquire: does the pulsating passion in so much of Chopin's music represent a sublimation of sex, and/or patriotism, or what? The question remains unanswered, and perhaps it is none of our business anyhow. But the composer was a public man, and any important creative figure is fair game for such conjecture. Also, few other famous men of music, if any other, have been so full of fascinating contradictions. To this day there is relative unanimity about only the most obvious truisms-that Chopin was a wildly complex individual, and that creatively he was a true original. The rest is paradox.
Like many another neurotic genius, nevertheless, Chopin tended to be coolly realistic about professional matters. On one occasion, told that Liszt was planning an article on him and his works, he remarked confidently that the flamboyant paterfamilias would “give me a little kingdom in his empire”. What the patriarch of Weimar eventually did write, in 1852, was that Chopin “has given to all of his creations the same life, and it is his own life... They are bound together in a unity which determines at once their beauties and their defects; both are the consequence of a single order of emotion, of an exclusive way of feeling... ”
Considering the source, Chopin did receive his due. The “empire” of the mighty Liszt ranged far; he enjoyed fealty in every corner of the music world, and reveled in it. But the keyboard alone was Chopin' “little kingdom”, and no one could deny that he had multiplied its harvest incalculably-least of all the pre-eminent virtuoso-composer of the day. Indeed, an otherwise unremembered French critic once devised a witty answer for those who could not decide between Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg as to which was the ranking pianist of Europe. The rejoinder: “It is Chopin.” And perhaps it was.
The piano had been Chopin's preferred dominion from his earliest years, but a young man has to make a place for himself and the young Chopin shrewdly reasoned that he would need a couple of “big” works with which to command attention. He felt that a mere miniaturist, with no more to offer than solo pieces, hardly could hope to win the approval of Louis-Philippe's Paris. For the dilettante audiences were by then well accustomed to more ambitious fare and they demanded it in exchange for even their scrutiny. Hence the two concerti. Chopin knew what he was doing.
Still, it was always in the direction of the miniature that his truest talents lay. Chopin was suspicious of bigness in all of its manifestations, and especially in works of art. Advised that his Second Concerto had been cordially received, he could remark that “there are people enough in all countries who like to assume the air of connoisseurs.” Patently, he had no use for the larger forms. Having availed himself of the popular predilection for “vehicles” to insure his reputation, he gravitated immediately to writing for piano solo and never again deigned to walk with the Philistines. In point of fact, as intimated, he walked with no one. The euphemism of “influence” may be used freely in discussing the music of nearly anyone, but Chopin rolled his own. As much cannot be said, in my opinion, for a single other composer down to the present-day herd of nonconformists.
In French the word “nocturne” -means “night-piece”. The idea seems to have been invented by the Irish pianist and sometime composer John Field (1782-1837). Fields own nocturnes are naively idyllic. Chopin's impressed him as products of a “sickroom talent”; he had no patience with their moods and mysteries. For his part Chopin admired the older man's music, but there was nothing in it he needed to borrow. He took only the concept, and because he loved the darkness in a far different way he lent to the genre a sense of drama, of passionate mysticism, that was not Field's to give.
Like the several “standard” editions, this recorded recital comprises nineteen Nocturnes (two others have yet to gain such scholarly recognition). Millions of words have been written about these pieces, and at this late date no annotator could hope to adduce any new insights-let alone say better what has been said so well already. Pages of analysis, e.g., could not tell more of the Op. 9, No. 2, than James Gibbons Huneker's observation that “it is best heard on a gray day of soul, when times are out of joint.” And none less than Robert Schumann adjudged the Op.27 pair “the most heartfelt and transfigured creations evolved in music”; who would have the temerity to say him nay? But in fact hyperbole is the rule in evaluations of the Nocturnes: even the sober Frederick Niecks described the Op. 37 brace as “precious pearls”. Moreover, every authority has a different way of rank-ordering the works qualitatively: G. C. Ashton Johnson unhesitatingly singles our the Op. 48, No. 1, as “the grandest of all”, but the equally Chopinoid Henry T. Finck had no doubt that the Op. 62, No. 1, is the “sublimest” of the whole series. And so on and on, as if perfection were a comparative quality and nor, in the end, ineffable.
Many composers after Chopin gave us nocturnes, and in the aggregate there are extant hundreds, perhaps thousands more of them than the too few that make up his oeuvre in this (one would think) rather mono-dimensional form. But on the evidence no one ever knew more intimately, nor revealed more meaningfully, the musical secrets of the night. And appropriately so, for the twilight zone, the outer limits of expression, beckoned to him from the beginning; and it is nor even untoward to suggest that the Nocturnes alone provide at once the parameter and perimeter of Chopin's private world.