Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Franck
Symphonic Variations
Ravel
Piano Concerto in G
Ivan Moravec (piano)

Prague Philharmonia
Jiri Belohlávek

Recorded in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague in January (Franck & Ravel) and September 2003
CD No: SUPRAPHON SU3714-2
Duration: 70 minutes
Reviewed: March 2004
This is a very special recording by one of the most stylish pianists around, a senior figure now, one who still relishes the lyrical and touch-sensitive qualities that the piano possesses.
One could easily write a long review listing all the subtleties that Moravec and the painstakingly supportive Jiri Belohlávek find in all three works – how they let each unfold with a naturalness that is utterly compelling, and how they favour the quieter end of the dynamic scale (and do so in revelatory terms) – confirmation of the simple truth that music has more impact when not presented in an obvious or contrived way. There’s nothing anonymous here, though, for this is music-making of a distinct and engaging personality.
All three works are presented in the most cultivated way, and with absolute inner conviction. The fleet and lyrical approach to the Beethoven gets to the heart of this supreme work, utterly compelling in its pacing, shaping and balance, and not without muscle, wit or depth. It’s wonderful that Moravec (like Brendel and Gilels) chooses Beethoven’s ’other’ first movement cadenza, more appropriate in its elusiveness. Quite simply, this is one of the greatest recorded accounts of this timeless masterpiece.
I feel similarly about the Ravel. Too often the elegance of this work is trampled over with bruising, fast tempos, a ’smash and grab’ routine that says more about the musicians than the music. Not so here, jazzy and winsome rather than garish and mawkish, Moravec and Belohlávek are attuned to Ravel’s watchmaker-craft and his refined sensibility – one is drawn into a specific world of colour-dreaming in which Belohlávek finds more in the orchestral writing than many conductors.
Without compromising the work’s razzmatazz, the relaxed demeanour of the outer movements catch a variety of nuances that raises the stakes in what can seem a one-dimensional work. Thus the trumpeter, shortly into the concerto’s opening, has time to be articulate and not just get through an obstacle of notes; and in this movement, Moravec’s supple shaping of the overlapping trills (6’11”-7’02”) is so movingly expressive. The slow movement benefits immeasurably from Moravec’s simplicity of line – no unnecessary punctuation or emphases – and the woodwind playing is deeply eloquent in its tactile association to Moravec’s beguiling expression.
Symphonic Variations is slightly less successful, a little too brusque at the opening and not sparkling enough at the close, but there’s much to enjoy, especially the tender unfolding of the slower music.
This partnership of equals is appropriately recorded; even the resonance of the Dvorák Hall seems to add a warm afterglow rather than be an intrusion – a magical halo that is absolutely appropriate.

 

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