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Ivan Moravec (piano)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
rec. 1995-2002
HÄNSSLER HC20084 [4 CDs: 256 mins]

This 4-CD box scoops up elements of Ivan Moravec’s discography from the years 1995-2002. The first two discs reprise Hänssler’s own two single-disc Mozart releases recorded in 1995 and 1997 which have subsequently been issued as a twofer on Piano Classics. Now it’s Hänssler’s turn to yoke them both to two solo recitals, one at the Prague Spring Festival (live, obviously) and the other an all-Chopin sequence recorded at a three-day session in New York.

Moravec had recorded Mozart concertos before, notably with his countryman Josef Vlach, but these four concerto examples, in which Moravec joined Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, are beautiful and representative of Moravec’s highest qualities as an interpreter. In Marriner he had a collaborator whose elegance and refinement fused with his own and gave room for the full range of Moravec’s colouristic palette to be explored. His dynamics are a constant joy – in the slow movement of K466 there is a heart-stopping example – and his cadenzas are invariably dispatched with eloquence, virtuosity and stylish assurance. Slow movements are long-breathed, phrasing is refined and natural, and outer movements rhythmically buoyant without being forced. In K491, he employs Edwin Fischer’s seldom encountered cadenza which he slightly amended. There’s a delicious lightness in this performance and, as ever, a true expressive weight in the slow movement, which few have really equalled. In K503 the cadenza is by Carl Reinecke which he again slightly modifies and in the slow movement he prioritises elegance rather than depth of expression, as befits the rather lighter nature of the work. There’s constant delight in these four concerto performances.

His 2000 Prague Spring recital shows another facet to his musicianship. He seldom performed Haydn sonatas but here opened with the Sonata in D major, Hob XVI:37. In this reading it’s suffused with a wit so Gallic that one regrets that Haydn wasn’t more prominent in his discography. He’d recorded Janáček for Nonesuch years before this recital and proves an interpreter of great wisdom and tonal resource. He is not the intense or vivid interpreter of the Sonata or In the Mists that Firkušný was, but Moravec’s own approach is equally alive and intense. Though the conception varies, he catches all the sonata’s biting staccati and brings out the bell tolls in the Death finale with gaunt assurance. In In the Mists his sense of narrative is unfailingly astute; again, more measured than Firkušný, but again very profoundly his own man in this repertoire. At the recital, he went on to perform Nos 17-24 of Chopin’s Op 28 Preludes; marvellously conceived and executed, full of insight and live readings that remind one of the two full sets he had recorded over the years as one of the greatest Chopin players of his generation. The Mazurka encores are delightfully nuanced and Debussy’s Ondine is staggeringly impressive.

The last disc revisits Chopin in a November 2002 recording at The Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. His Chopin Sonata in B-flat minor is launched with the kind of rhythmic inevitability that one seldom encounters, and his exploration of the slow movement avoids melodrama but references its funereal depths with the kind of warmth and expressive depth that characterises his Mozart. The remainder of the recital is notable for a superb Ballade No 4 and a Polonaise that sticks to its guns throughout – no extraneous detailing derails its progress.

There are brief notes and the recorded sound reflects the originals justly.

There are many examples of Moravec’s art on disc to savour – Supraphon’s recent multi-disc set is a primary focus – but this four-disc box shows how beautifully he was playing in his mid-60s and early 70s.

Jonathan Woolf

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, K 466 [31:53]
Piano Concerto No 23 in A major, K 488 [26:13]
Recorded April 1997, Henry Wood Hall, London
Piano Concerto No 24 in C minor, K 491 [31:02]
Piano Concerto No 25 in C major, K 503 [30:39]
Recorded October 1995, Henry Wood Hall, London
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata No 50 in D major, Hob.XVI:37 [10:25]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 in E-flat minor, JW VIII / 19 'From the Street' [14:24]
In the Mists [14:59]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
24 Preludes, Op 28: Nos 17-24 [24:35]
Mazurka in C-sharp minor [2:12]
Mazurka in A minor [4:53]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Ondine [3:49]
Recorded 2000, Prague Spring Festival
Fryderyk CHOPIN
Piano Sonata No 2 in B-flat minor, Op 35 'Marche funèbre' [24:44]
Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op 52 [11:14]
Mazurka No 40 in F minor, Op 63 No 2 [2:17]
Mazurka No 5 in B-flat major, Op 7 No 1 [2:18]
Mazurka No 25 in B minor, Op 33 No 4 [5:07]
Fantaisie in F minor, Op 49 [12:51]
Polonaise No 7 in A-flat major, Op 61 ‘Polonaise – Fantaisie’ [13:49]
Recorded November 2002, The Academy of Arts and Letters, New York

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