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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

  • Sonata in B Flat minor, Op. 35
  • Berceuse, Op. 57
  • Ballade #4 in F minor, Op. 52
  • Mazurka in E Major, Op. 6/3
  • Mazurka in B Flat minor, Op. 24/4
  • Mazurka in D Flat Major, Op. 30/3
  • Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49
Ivan Moravec, piano
Vox VXP7908 64:02
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Prague-born pianist Ivan Moravec celebrated his seventieth birthday in 2000. Since the 1960s, he has been a favorite among listeners in the know, particularly for his intelligent and human performances of music by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. American record collectors are likely to have heard Moravec for the first time on a series of LPs recorded by the Connoisseur Society. He also made some fine recordings for Vox, and it is nice to see and hear him on this American label again at this point in his career.

These sessions date from November 11-13, 2002, and the recording venue was the Academy of Arts & Letters in New York City. The mood is autumnal, but time has not dimmed much of the Moravec magic. He was only infrequently a muscular pianist, and there are some passages on this CD (the second movement of the sonata, the end of the Ballade, several parts of the Fantaisie, etc.) where physical power is arguably needed but not forthcoming. The dexterity present in his playing during his thirties and forties is no longer a given either. One can't deny that Ivan Moravec isn't a young man anymore.

Nevertheless, this is a treasurable recital, because the qualities that made Moravec famous some thirty-five years ago have not departed with his youth. Few pianists shape Chopin's phrases as interestingly as he does; he preserves the spirit of improvisation without inserting any waywardness or ego of his own. What seems fussy coming from other pianists is made natural here. He never pounds to make an interpretive point, and preciousness is foreign to him. The "Funeral March" movement of the sonata is played without false pathos, and without the saccharine distortions to which it is often subjected. Similarly, the Berceuse gains much from being played simply – as a cradle song. Moravec plays the ever more intricate filigree in this piece with modesty – no shivery "look at me!" finger gymnastics from this veteran.

The sound, while not very bright, is honest. Like the pianist himself, it hasn't been souped-up!

Younger collectors may wonder who Ivan Moravec is. They are encouraged to purchase this CD and find out what all the shouting has been about.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle