Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
CD 1: Nocturnes 1-10 [53:22]
CD 2: Nocturnes 11-19 [52:07]
Ivan Moravec (piano)
rec. April 1965, St Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University, New York (Nos. 1, 4-7, 9, 13, 19), and November 1965, Mozartsaal of the Konzerthaus, Vienna (2-3, 8, 10-12, 14-18)
SUPRAPHON SU 4097-2 [53:22 + 52:07]
Ivan Moravec’s Chopin nocturnes are the stuff of legend. They’ve been that way since they were recorded in 1965, and this new reissue, on the Supraphon label and containing a brand-new interview with the pianist, is the ideal way to own them. These two CDs contain some of the greatest Chopin performances ever recorded.
The wonders and delights are many. Moravec’s way with phrasing is unequaled: though there is a lot of rubato and artistic license, it all feels utterly natural and ‘right’. The result is to magnify, rather than detract from, Chopin’s genius: the slow unfurling of some nocturnes’ opening melodies, the total naturalness of transitions, the very quietly awe-inspiring ability of Moravec to find a different shade, a different tone, for nearly every note. There are comparisons to be made to other pianists - my collection contains Arrau, Rubinstein, Ohlsson, Pires, Wild, and Boegner complete - but with playing of this greatness, it is both difficult and futile to make them. Moravec is not consistently fast, or slow, or any one adjective at all, except perhaps reverential. 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.
This is a new re-mastering, dating from 2012 and from the Supraphon team, who licensed the recordings from Nonesuch. I’m not enough of an audiophile to give a detailed report on the differences, aside from maybe a touch better sense of the acoustical space. 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.
I’m surprising nobody by praising this, and indeed there is really very little I can add to the chorus. Donald Manildi, American Record Guide: “one of the great Chopin recordings of all time.” Henry Fogel, Fanfare: “among the great piano recordings of the 20th century.” Steve Smith, New York Times: “truly, this is an essential document.” Leslie Gerber: “moment after moment of revelatory beauty. Many critics consider this the greatest set of the Chopin nocturnes ever recorded…” There is only one qualm to point out: this set does not include the two nocturnes published posthumously. I very much wish it did, because few if any pianists achieve this sort of beauty in every single work.
The new Supraphon issue is for two types of people: those who for some reason did not have Moravec’s Chopin nocturnes before, and those who did, but wish to read the interview and perhaps hear the new masterings. If you’re in the latter group, invest with a connoisseur’s savvy. If you’re in the former, goodness what a wondrous journey awaits.
The only reason this new re-mastering doesn’t say ‘Recording of the Month’ is that everyone already agrees it was a ‘Recording of the Century’.