Piano Concerto in A minor. op
Piano Concerto in D minor, op
Ivan Moravec, Dallas Symphony
Orchestra, Eduardo Mata
DOR-90172, 79 minutes,
Ivan Moravec is a name that might not be familiar to many, yet he is one
of the last of a legendary generation of great pianists that demands comparison
with Richter, Gieseking and Solomon. Moravec has a selfless virtuosity which
defies belief, and an almost innate ability to draw the most poetic cadences
from the piano. Both the Schumann and the Brahms recordings on this disc,
from live performances, are in their own ways fascinating insights into a
world of pianism you hardly ever hear nowadays. This disc is indispensible
for this reason alone, even if the performances will generate some controversy.
Moravec's Brahms partly reminds me of Pollini's. Both pianists tackle this
titanic work as a roughly hewn jewel, rather than the perfectly cut diamond
we almost always get nowadays (and which is so dull to listen to). In terms
of sheer speed there is very little to separate these two masters of the
keyboard. But whereas Pollini robs this work of much of its majesty (see
my review last month), Moravec balances speed and poetry very finely. There
are glimpses of sheer refinement in the handling of the second movement,
and even in the more temporate passages of the first movement subject (sample
12'05) just before the return of the octave passage. The close of the first
movement is miraculous, teetering on the edge of near impossible pianism.
It is not just the velocity of the fingerwork which is astonishing, but also
the accuracy. From 20'25 to the close of the first movement at 21'16 the
pianism is elemental, even exceeding the perfectionism of Pollini. There
is more than a little of Gieseking and Solomon in this Brahms performance
that ranks it amongst the finest ever recorded.
The Schumann is not so successful. The performance is perhaps too driven
and not nearly so introspective enough to convince. There is an abundance
of lyricism in the first movement, but the Schumann requires a kind of nocturnal
ambivalence to succeed which is missing in Moravec's performance. It is ironic
that he achieves precisely this effect in the lyrical second movement of
the Brahms but seems unable to apply it to the Schumann.
The recording quality requires some tolerance. Even though these are digital
recordings dating from 1992 and 1993, the balance is heavily in favour of
the pianist. At times during the Brahms it feels as if one is sat on top
of the piano itself so forward is the sound. There are moments during the
second movement when the piano is playing forte and the instrumental
colour is all but washed away. This is a serious flaw in what would otherwise
be a primary choice for this work. A studio recording of the Brahms Moravec
made offers a more natural balance but perhaps lacks the last ounce of
spontaneity he achieves here.
For the Brahms my original recommendations when I reviewed Pollini's disc
remain unchanged, although I would add Moravec's recording of this concerto
to the list without hesitation (despite questionnable sound). It is, by any
measure, a great performance. Pity about the coupling.