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Moravec - Twelfth Night Recital, Prague, 1987
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903 [13:51]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No. 13 in B flat major, K 333 (315c) [22:08]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 [17:41]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 3 [5:26]
Nocturne in F sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2 [4:02]
Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2 [6:39]
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 [11:57]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 63 No. 3 [2:05]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque [6:03]
Ivan Moravec (piano)
rec. live, 6 January 1987, Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU41902 [53:56 + 36:38]

Listening to this recording makes me regret, even more, passing up an opportunity I had, several years ago, to hear the Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (1930-2015) live. His superb artistry and musicianship secured him a place in the Philips Great Pianists of the 20th Century series, issued in the late 1990s. This particular recording titled ‘Twelfth Night Recital, Prague 1987’ was intended as an eighty-fifth birthday gift for the maestro in November 2015. Sadly the pianist died in July, never seeing the project fully realized.

The recital from the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, a favourite concert and recording venue of the pianist for six decades, had inexplicably languished in the Supraphon archives for twenty-eight years. Recognizing its artistic quality, Matouš Vlčinský, the label’s producer, decided to look into the possibility of issuing it. At first he met with a blank refusal from Moravec. After all, he had made studio recordings of all the works, with the possible exception of the Debussy encore, so it was deemed superfluous to his perfectionist requirements. Fortunately for us Vlčinský wasn’t deterred, and his dogged persistence eventually paid off, after enlisting the support of the pianist’s wife. Moravec had a change of heart in May 2015, and in June he and his wife visited the studios to hear the final product. In fact, Moravec had been listening to the recording the evening before he died.

In the opening Bach work, the Fantasia is a spacious account, technically accomplished, encompassing both dramatic gesture and more reflective elements. Moravec brings to the music a wealth of imagination and insights, with an improvisatory feel throughout. In the Fugue, there’s idiomatic voicing of parts, and the polyphonic lines are delineated clearly.

The playful, upbeat mood of the Mozart Sonata is captured to outstanding effect. Moravec’s Mozart is imbued with grace, elegance, charm and, most of all, sophistication. Tempi in each of the movements is well-judged. Dynamic control and articulation renders the outcome both idiomatic and stylish. The ever-popular ‘Moonlight’, to give it Ludwig Rellstab’s dreadful title, has never been a shrinking violet in the concert pianist’s repertoire. How does this performance stack up? Well, I enjoyed Moravec’s take on this ubiquitous work. The opening movement is one of the finest I’ve ever heard. There’s a haunting quality to the playing, with the pianist evoking an atmosphere of peace and resignation. In the energetic finale there’s some stunning fingerwork, which is dispatched with explosive aplomb.

The music of Chopin constitutes a sizeable proportion of Moravec’s commercial discography. There are studio versions of all four Ballades from the 1960s, and he also recorded the complete Nocturnes, first issued on LP by the Connoisseur Society, and now available from Supraphon on CD, again from the 1960s. The Nocturnes he chose for this concert are two of the most popular. The opening of Op. 15 No. 2 has a captivating simplicity and, in the Doppio movimento middle section, the melody is expertly contoured. The Op. 27 No. 2, with its fioritura style, is delicately refined, with rubato tastefully applied. Sensitive pedalling enables him to achieve a wealth of colour and tonal shadings. The Fourth Ballade must surely be one of the finest realizations I’ve heard. A stylish and idiomatic performance, he applies subtle tempo changes to highlight the drama of the narrative. A good example is near the beginning. At bar 46 (3:05), after the pp section, he slightly increases the tempo, then from bar 53 (3:24) he gradually pulls back, holding the tenuto G flat in bar 56 (3:37) for longer than I’ve ever heard. The effect takes your breath away. The sea of notes in the fiendishly difficult coda are all clearly heard, not washed out or ill-defined due to over-pedalling. Two delightful Mazurkas frame the Chopin section. Debussy’s perennial Clair de lune is impressionistically evocative and deliciously painted.

Captured in ideal sound, one can understand Moravec’s fondness for the Rudolfinum's Dvorák Hall as a preferred recording location. The spacious, yet warm acoustic enables the listener to pick out every detail. Applause has been retained, and audience presence is in no way intrusive. Supraphon are to be lauded for reissuing this valuable document showcasing pianism at its finest. It constitutes a fitting tribute to a great artist.

Stephen Greenbank



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