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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1841-5). Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838).
César FRANCK (1822-90)

Symphonic Variations (1885).
Ivan Moravec (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Neumann
Recorded in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, in April 1976 (Franck and Schumann Piano Concerto); August 1987 (Kinderszenen). [DDD (Kinderszenen)/ADD].
SUPRAPHON SU3508-2
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Ivan Moravec is a sensitive pianist who shows in his playing a real affinity for Romanticism. The two Schumann pieces on this disc were recorded eleven years apart. The later recording, 'Kinderszenen', seems the more successful of the two. Moravec's control of keyboard sonority is a marvel. He opts for a brittle tone for No. 4, 'Bittendes Kind' and enters a truly interior world for No. 10, 'Fast zu ernst' (here the shading is exquisite, the overall impression being that of an improvisation). His pedal technique is demonstrated in the brief and fleet-fingered No. 3, 'Hasche-Mann' and his loving touch is well captured in No. 12, 'Kind im Einschlummern'. Perhaps most impressive is 'Träumerei', as convincing an example of the Art of the Simple as one is likely to encounter. Moravec is careful not to break the spell with the onset of No. 8, 'Am Kamin'.

Some over-emphases are evident, however: No. 9, 'Ritter vom Steckenpferd' suffers from an over-projected top line and the opening of the final movement, 'Der Dichter spricht' is overdone.

The account of the Schumann Piano Concerto affords many moments of joy. The orchestra's contribution should be saluted, for Neumann inspires the woodwind/piano exchanges to attain the utmost delicacy and intimacy. Moravec, however, takes a rather languishing view of various parts of the first movement. The initial piano flourish seems a trifle ponderous and Neumann nearly stops before the re-statement of the opening (about 6'30). Neumann to his credit seems to want to resist this tendency, and also seems to enjoy the details of Schumann's accompaniment. The orchestral accents can be punchy and exciting. Curiously, Moravec's cadenza for once makes this a gripping event in the structure of the movement

One of my main concerns is the slow movement. Schumann labels this 'Intermezzo' and the tempo indication is 'Andantino grazioso': here it is more of an Adagio. However, there is some beautiful shaping of phrases from the orchestra and the lead-in to the Finale is magical. It is in the last movement that they seem to come together and Moravec suddenly becomes the voice (fingers?) of experience. After (again) some over-emphatic accents in the initial bars, where the tone becomes forced and harsh, Moravec finally seems to enter the music and reveals the qualities which can make him seem such a special interpreter, honesty to the spirit of the text being paramount among them.

Pollini's 'live' 1989 performance on DG (with the Berlin Philharmonic under Abbado, 471 353-2) offers a more consistent view and he is entirely in sympathy with his accompanying forces. It is all of a performance from the first to last and with every mote having its place within the whole. The Berlin players rise to the occasion.

Despite being recorded at the same time as the Schuman concert, the actual recorded sound on the Franck sounds insubstantial in comparison. As a performance, however, this is a success. The conception is Romantic but not syrupy (a crucial distinction in this composer's case). Strings are lyrical and silvery in sound, and Moravec demonstrates superb fingerwork towards the close of the work. A version to share shelf-space with Clifford Curzon (London Philharmonic Orchestra/Boult, Decca 466 376-2).

A thought-provoking record which, whilst not an unqualified success, affords much pleasure.
Colin Clarke


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