Ivan Moravec: Twelfth Night Recital
This set was to have been a birthday present for the great Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, who would have been 85 on November 7. But alas it became a posthumous tribute following his death in July. The fact that it has appeared at all is down to the efforts of Supraphon’s executive producer Matouš Vlčinský. As he relates in the booklet, for 28 years the recital lay unissued in the Supraphon archive. Moravec, ever self-critical, initially rejected the idea of it being issued. Finally he was won over, and was listening to it the night before his death on July 27. Vlčinský writes: ‘This recording remains behind as his message, his statement on beauty. He surely will be glad if, perhaps while listening to it, you drink a glass of fine wine to his health, to his honour, to the beauty of music.’
No wine is required to appreciate the quality of the recital. To listen to Moravec is to be reminded of another era, one in which there was no political correctness surrounding Bach and the modern piano. He gives a warm, richly rhetorical reading of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, one that is seemingly without ego and entirely compelling. The Mozart sonata is another highlight: Moravec was of course a supreme interpeter of his music and this reading of K333 is a gem. It speaks of long acquaintance in the way the music is allowed to unfold so artlessly. The piquant modulations of the slow movement are just so, given enough prominence but never too much, while the burbling finale is simply joyous. If I have qualms about the rhythmic freedom of the first movement of the Moonlight, they are offset by a lolloping Allegretto in which Moravec finds such airiness of texture that it never sounds too slow, and a fearlessly impulsive finale.
Moravec’s Chopin is always special and even in a piece as familiar as the Op 27 No 2 Nocturne it is rendered fresh by the myriad shadings and colourings combined with an ear for Chopin’s inner lines. The Op 15 No 2 Nocturne, so often over-sweetened, here has a meditative quality, and even in the turbulent inner section the piece’s fundamental solemnity is never overshadowed. The Fourth Ballade is another highlight, the pianist repeatedly drawing out lines previously hidden. It’s a spacious view of the piece, Moravec allowing the detail to tell without losing sense of the piece’s architecture. The encores are similiarly captivating, whether in the inner voicings drawn out of the Op 63 No 3 Mazurka or in his enraptured ‘Clair de lune’, rapturously received. A fitting tribute to a great artist.