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Ivan Moravec in New York: JanŠček, Debussy, Chopin; Carnegie Hall, New York City, 31.10.2005 (BH)



JanŠček: In the Mists
Debussy: Pour le piano
Chopin: Fantasy in F Minor/A-flat Major, Op. 49
Chopin: Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 1
Chopin: Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2
Chopin: Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2
Chopin: Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Chopin: Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23

Carnegie Hall, New York City,

Ivan Moravec, Piano


Much like good string quartet writing, music for solo piano has an intimacy that larger forms like orchestral works or opera simply do not have.Last Monday night, New Yorkers had the opportunity to get very close to Ivan Moravec, who gave a recital notable for its haunting understatement.Moravec, now 75, plays like a 35-year-old, and I mean that as high praise to both age groups.Where some elder statesmen can be forgiven fingerwork or memory lapses, Moravec was pristine yet powerful, gentle yet politely roaring Ė an essay in refined pianism, in marked contrast to some recitals where sheer force seems to be the order of the day.If Moravec probably wonít be heard in the work of Xenakis, Ferneyhough, Murail or Ligeti, it didnít really matter during this unexpectedly graceful evening.

The Debussy was easily the hit of the evening.The three short pieces that make up Pour le piano flowed from Moravecís hands with an astonishing naturalness, with no undue emphasis on stretching the phrasing, no overly analytical references to anyone or anything else Ė just gently heroic playing, and that miraculous sense of effortlessness that the best artists cultivate.Moravec uses a good bit of pedal Ė almost too much, according to one pianist friend Ė but for these pieces in Carnegieís acoustic, it seemed just right: Debussy as the culmination of an era.A different artist might play it more like the beginning of another.

If the Chopin seemed just slightly less gripping, it may have been (as another pianist pointed out) Moravecís tendency to sometimes subvert expectations with his phrasing.Soloists often ďsingĒ in a way similar to the human voice, but here he seemed to be gently trying out a different way of playing these, especially the four Nocturnes.The result was a certain distance, almost detached but not quite.Nevertheless, certain qualities were in evidence throughout the program: elegantly framed phrases, a touch that seemed feather light when needed but plunged into stentorian fortissimo at a momentís notice, and nothing overly fussy or twisted out of shape.The last two, in F-sharp major and C minor, were particularly effective, and not the least of Moravecís achievements was a highly distilled articulation at a very low volume level.The Ballade, a favorite of Horowitz, maintained its strength but was notable in the more hushed moments.

The opening JanŠček was tender and nicely handled, although after some exposure to this work by several other artists, Iím still not quite convinced that the work shows the composer at his finest.In any case, Moravec employed the same precise, velvet handling, coupled with a soupÁon of mystery that made me wish he had put some Bartůk on the program.The three encores were lovely: Chopinís wispy Prelude in A Major seemingly over just as it began, a jaunty Polka in E-flat Major by Smetana, and in what many people thought the most mesmerizing of all, Debussyís Serenade for the Doll from Children's Corner, delicately painted with immaculate control right through to the very end, when Moravecís finger landed like a butterfly on the final celestial note.



Bruce Hodges





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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, GŲran 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)