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Twelfth Night Recital
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903 [13:59]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No.13 in B flat, K 333 (315c) [22:13]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.14 in c sharp minor, Op.27/2, ‘Quasi una fantasia’ (Moonlight) [17:31]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in c sharp minor, Op.50/3 [5:30]
Nocturne in F sharp, Op.15/2 [4:06]
Nocturne in D flat, Op.27/2 [6:44]
Ballade No. 4 in f minor, Op.52 [12:03]
Mazurka in c sharp minor, Op.63/3 [2:07]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune [6:03]
Ivan Moravec (piano)
rec. live Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, 6 January 1987. DDD.
SUPRAPHON SU4190-2 [53:43 + 36:34]

This album, recorded live at the Prague Twelfth Night festivities in 1987, was due to have been released to celebrate veteran Czech pianist Ivan Moravec’s 85th birthday.  Instead it has become his memorial: he died on 27 July 2015.  His discography, mostly on Supraphon, is considerable, but this recital has lain in the vaults until now, perhaps because his own strict self-censorship passed it only a short time prior to his death.

The main appeal will be to Moravec’s own considerable fan base.   For my part I enjoyed it but found it something of a curate’s egg.  The opening Bach work emerges from his hands as a beautiful piece of music but doesn’t sound particularly Bach-like: at times you might almost think you were listening to sensitive playing of Chopin or Debussy, composers whom he recorded many times, for Vox as well as for Supraphon, and to whose music he seems much more naturally attuned.

His 1965 recording of the Chopin Nocturnes, originally made for the Connoisseur Society (SU4097-2, 2 CDs) was aptly described by Brian Reinhart as the stuff of legend.  I’m no Chopin expert but the two Nocturnes recorded here receive such beautiful performances that I intend to listen to that complete set. 

The other Chopin works here are also so beautifully rendered as to make it clear why this rather modest pianist is considered one of the great Chopin interpreters.  If the two Mazurkas here pique your interest, as they did mine, there are three more Mazurka performances from him on SU4059-2, coupled with the four Scherzos and two Etudes.

With a beautifully evocative Clair de Lune to round off the recital, it’s the Chopin and Debussy on the second CD that particularly appealed to me.

The Mozart sonata, however, also seems natural grist to Moravec’s mill.  His recordings of several of the Mozart piano concertos, with the Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields and Neville Marriner, have been recommended for the beauty of Moravec’s playing and that beauty is much in evidence here in Sonata No.13.  I don’t think it tells the whole story – one performance could probably never do that – but he emphasises the elegance of this work without ever slipping into the Meissen figurine type of Mozart playing.  Again, I intend to explore Moravec further, this time in the Mozart concertos: Nos. 20, 23-25 with Marriner (Hänssler 94.603 or, less expensively, Piano Classics PCLD0008); Nos. 20 and 23 with Marriner (Hänssler 98.142 – download only); Nos. 24 and 25 with Marriner (Hänssler 98.955, download only); Nos. 14, 23 and 25 with Josef Vlach (Supraphon SU3809-2).

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata also receives a very delicate and evocative performance – arguably even more suited to this quasi una fantasia than Moravec’s playing in the Mozart.  With recitals such as this there isn’t much point in making comparisons with other recordings of individual works but I’m sure that such a comparison would place this Moonlight high on anyone’s shopping list.  With recordings of Für Elise and Bagatelle No.4 (VAI VAIA1096) and the Pastoral Sonata (SU4004-2) to his credit, it’s the lighter side of Beethoven’s temperament that seems to have been especially suited to Moravec.

The one composer with whom I associate Ivan Moravec who is not included here is Dvořák.  Fortunately the lack is easily remedied in the form of a budget-price Supraphon 3-CD set of his concertos and other works which includes his recording of the Piano Concerto alongside the Violin Concerto and Romance (Josef Suk) and the two Cello Concertos and Silent Woods (Miloš Sadló) with the Czech Philharmonic, with Jiří Bělohlávek and Vacláv Neumann at the helm (SU3965-2, around £16 but currently on offer from Presto for £10.56).

The recording, which I heard as streamed from Qobuz, sounds by no means the worse for having lain metaphorically in the vaults for so long.  It can be downloaded there in lossless sound for £11.99, just over half what you might expect to pay for the CDs, but the download comes without the booklet.  That means that I’ve had to tot up the track lengths to list the timings for complete works and for the two CDs above, so I can’t guarantee them with my life, though they add up to the total playing time of 90:17 which Amazon state.

If you dislike applause, I should warn that there is a good deal of it on this recording.  Other than that I cannot imagine anyone being other than enthralled, especially by the performances on the second CD.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)

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