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Seen and Heard International Recital Review

Schumann, Debussy, Beethoven: Ivan Moravec (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 28 March 2005 (BJ)

Quite aside from the fact that we still have a couple of months to go, to hail this recital as “the event of the season” may seem like asking for trouble, in the sense of provoking disagreement from concert-goers with other priorities on their preference list. Yet I cannot think of a single presentation till now, whether of chamber, instrumental, or orchestral music, that I would put in the same league as Ivan Moravec’s recital for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society on 28 March.

The program was characteristically serious and characteristically traditional: Schumann’s Kinderscenen, Estampes and a group of five preludes by Debussy, and Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata. To succeed with music of that stamp you have to have both a strong technique and a strong personality. Moravec has both, and the astonishing thing is that he seems to get better and better as he moves through his 70s. There is not the slightest diminution in technical command, while the musical insight, always keen, becomes ever more strikingly convincing. The “Appassionata” on this occasion was a case in point. Not only has Moravec restored the idiosyncratic repeat in the finale that he omitted when he recorded the work decades ago–that is mere detail. Much more important was the way this performance combined all the familiar fire his readings have generated over the years with the greatest rhythmic and textural clarity; the first big outburst in the opening movement, for example, arrived at its top note with total punctuality. The Andante con moto, too, was an object lesson of inexorably graceful rhythmic diversification culminating in an utterly natural reassertion of the broader original pulse as the movement neared its end.

At this conclusion, the sudden fortissimo arpeggio that heralds the finale demonstrated another Moravec trait: the ability to make the piano ring with a brilliance and solidity rivaled by very few pianists of this or, so far as I know, of any time. The blend of sensitively nuanced timbre in soft music, superbly controlled power in louder passages, and rocklike security in the bass at all dynamic levels also informed and illuminated his revelatory Schumann and Debussy before intermission. Typically, the Träumerei movement in Kinderscenen was at once fluid and totally lucid in pulse. The evocations of Asia in Debussy’s Pagodes, of Spain in La soirée dans Grenade and La puerta del vino, of Italian folk-dance in Les collines d’Anacapri, and of all manner of mystery and myth in La cathédrale engloutie and Ondine were limned in with unfailing vividness of perception and richness of drama.

To assert that, since the death of Sviatoslav Richter, no pianist has been able to rival Moravec’s sheer mastery of poetry and technical security alike may, again, be dangerous. I assert it nonetheless. I also found it fascinating that one good judge I spoke to during intermission was struck before anything else by the gentleness of Moravec’s playing, whereas for another it was his strength that first claimed notice. And they were both right.

Bernard Jacobson



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)