Ivan Moravec Twelfth Night Recital = Works by BACH,MOZART BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, DEBUSSY – Ivan Moravec, p. – Supraphon (2 CDs)

Ivan Moravec Twelfth Night Recital = BACH: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in d minor, BWV 903; MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-flat Major, K. 333; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 14 in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; CHOPIN: 2 Mazurkas; Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2; Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2; Ballade No. 4 in f minor, Op. 52; DEBUSSY: Clair de Lune – Ivan Moravec, p. – Supraphon SU 4190-2 (2 CDs), 90:34  (11/13/15) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

For Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (1930-2015) the musical sound he produced at the keyboard fully expressed and extended his magnanimous spirit, to which I can testify personally. Garrick Ohlsson and I shared the Green Room at Davies Hall in San Francisco after a Moravec recital, and I repaid Ivan’s great generosity of his having sent me – from Prague – elusive Vaclav Talich LPs with a CD copy of a Tanglewood concert by Karel Ancerl and the Boston Symphony in performance of a complete Ma Vlast.

The present recital of 6 January 1987 from Dvorak Hall in Prague had been unearthed just prior to Moravec’s death, and it did pass the pianist’s highly critical scrutiny – thanks to his wife’s influence – for reissue. The musical materials duplicate works Moravec inscribed for Supraphon commercially, but the occasion now gains a new significance, especially since Moravec performs at the height of his interpretive powers. The Moonlight Sonata emerges with incredibly nuanced shades of piano and pianissimo, the breathed spaces between the notes rife with lyric power. Besides the astonishing dramatic power of the last movement, its capacity to sing as well as dance torrentially consistently enthralls our musical imagination. Until the audience erupts into praise, we would not have known the recital had witnesses.

The opening Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue enjoys the warm, liquid sonority that defines the Moravec sound. The color contrasts and mixes assume an Aeolian harp modality, thoughtful, alert, fluid, and sensuous. Intimacy of feeling combines with the subtle bravura of an artist’s command of an extraordinary toccata that evolves into a polyphonic tapestry of graduated power and mysterious clarity of line. The lightness of the dynamic allows Moravec access to a color palette that frolics in its fearful symmetries.

The 1778 Mozart B-flat Sonata, a product of his Paris sojourn, embodies his own virtuosity, with passages that contain solo and concertante elements. The delicacy of the writing finds a counter in the brilliant runs, syncopations, and flourishes that challenge the performer.   Moravec varies the color content of the exposition with every repetition of the opening filigree.  The Andante cantabile prefigures the later operatic, darkly chromatic style Mozart would employ in his The Magic Flute and occasional Masonic pieces. Moravec allows this music to breathe, “playing itself,” with no mannerism or cloying affectation. The “symphonic” character of the writing extends into the Allegretto grazioso, a bravura rondo that incorporates cadenzas and concerto-like flourishes into its cyclical structure.  Moravec’s “music-box” execution and seamless facility render the musical content, with its homage to Mozart’s mentor J.C. Bach, an occasion of infinite charm.

The Chopin group imposes upon all of the preceding qualities of polyphonic and agogic coloration the new virtue of poised nationalism, likely in Moravec’s case, a product of his studies with the incomparable Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli but filtered through Moravcec’s individual, poetic lens. That intrinsic Chopin element, zal, occupies every measure of the two mazurkas – in c-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3 and c-sharp minor, Op. 63, No. 3 – invested as they are with a natural rubato.  The two nocturnes emerge as “water pieces” that prefigure Debussy.  Passion and poetic truth merge in Chopin’s splendid setting of the Mickiewicz ballad “Budri,” a narrative of war that concludes with multiple weddings. The progression of dramatic gestures, accompanied by double notes and right hand trills prove no obstacle to Moravec’s intimate and masterly evolution of the potent, romantic narrative.

Moravec announces each of the two encores, the Chopin mazurka, and then – so we must take this as an unwitting epilogue to an epic career – the haunted Clair de Lune, played as a grand nocturne in the Liszt tradition.  By the tone the last chords sound, Artemis herself may have delivered poignant shafts of emotion from her timeless quiver.

—Gary Lemco

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