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S & H Concert Review

S & H Concert Review

Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy Ivan Moravec (piano). Queen Elizabeth Hall, December 8th, 2002 (CC)


Ivan Moravec walked on stage to face a packed QEH and sat down to play Schumann's 'Kinderszenen'. Without playing a note, he got up and walked off again. Confusion reigned, the audience conjectured ... until a voice over the speakers informed us that Mr Moravec had a nosebleed and would continue as soon as possible.

The delayed concert indeed finally got underway and was without a doubt worth the wait. But why did the QEH staff not turn the speaker off? (there was a conspicuous hiss from the speaker to my left which, once I had noticed it, was difficult to dismiss).

There are few more tender ways to open a concert than with Schumann's 'Kinderszenen'. Moravec's recording of this piece for Supraphon (SU3508-2) provides much to admire, but also includes its fair share of over-emphases. Live, one is more aware of the weight of Moravec's experience: what might sound laboured in the sterile recording studio, emerges as clear and convincing in the concert hall. 'Traumerei' was a highlight, unaffected yet warm and touching. With the exception of the very opening (where Moravec sounded as if he were playing himself in to the piece), control was all, the technique utterly subservient to the musical conception.

Moravec's Chopin was hardly less impressive. The F minor 'Fantaisie' is a tough piece to bring off, but Moravec penetrated to the heart of the music. The opening was grand, the tone appropriately sonorous. There was no doubting Moravec's virtuosity here, but it was his tonal variety which impressed most, particularly a sparing but impressive use of thinning the tone to a half-voice. The F minor Ballade showed the same traits, reminding the listener once more of Moravec's liquid cantabile.

A selection of four of Brahms' piano pieces launched the second half (with no announcement that they would be played in a different order from that printed in the programme). They proved a well-contrasted group: the A major Intermezzo, Op. 118 No. 2 was perhaps more volatile than is often the case, but this only shed new light on it. The Capriccio in B minor, Op.76 No. 2 was playful; the B flat minor Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 2 contained some chording of outstanding beauty; and the G minor Rhapsody, Op. 79 No. 2 was strong and muscular. A thread of warmth and richness ran through all these performances.

Debussy's 'Pour le Piano' made an ideal contrast. Moravec declined to descend into mere washes of sound, instead articulating clearly and displaying the pedal technique of a master. It was particularly interesting to hear pre-echoes of Messiaen in the quasi-ecstatic feeling he projected in some chordal sequences.

The encores provided yet further highlights: an intimate, scaled-down Chopin Mazurka led to a Polka by Smetana (we really should hear more of this composer's piano music) and finally, 'Serenade for a doll' from Debussy's 'Children's Corner'.

Colin Clarke


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