Ludwig van Beethoven
This was first released as an LP on the Connoisseur label in the late 60s and contains one of the finest performances of the 4th piano concerto you will ever hear. This concerto is Beethoven in his most jovial mood but also contains the drama we associate with this composer. On first listening it sounds like a concerto that a virtuoso could just dash off with the usual élan but on closer inspection it is far more difficult to bring off than one could imagine.
It all comes down to one chord – the opening one which is a G major triad and is followed by a series of chords that modulate to a new key where the piano stops and the orchestra comes in. Any half decent amateur pianist could play these chords with ease but it is how you execute them that matters.
That first chord needs to perfectly weighted and sustained. Get this wrong and the rest of the movement just doesn't seem to sound right. The series of chords that follows also has to be played with just the correct amount of weight and the phrasing is crucial along with tonal colour. It is so easy to get wrong and you can't go back and start again.
I've only heard two pianist who can make me hold my breath in this opening passage. Emil Gilels and Ivan Moravec on this recording! The technical skill required to get this finely nuanced section requires a level of skill that most pianists don't have - Moravec does. He takes the opening slightly faster than Gilels but all the factors are perfectly balanced.
The conductor also has a significant part to play in this as well and is not just there to keep the orchestra in time. His entrance with the orchestra must also be balanced against the opening piano solo that has gone before and Turnovsky manages this perfectly. This is a concerto where the piano and orchestra hold a lengthy dialogue at times agreeing and also debating with each other. The two have to appear to be equal proponents of the same musical argument.
This conversation between the soloist and the orchestra is inspiring when Moravec is one of the speakers. He highlights the sparkle and wit of this movement with arpeggios and scales that have a clarity that is remarkable. His decision to use the sustain pedal as sparingly as possible helps create this effect and is very noticeable in the cadenza at the end of the movement.
The second movement carries on this dialogue but the conversation is now far more dramatic as the orchestra attempts to subdue a meek piano but as the piano's voice grows in strength the orchestra is sent slinking away and it's last words are a mere rumble. Moravec's beautifully paced crescendo is matched by the decrescendo of Turnovsky and the Viennese ensemble.
The finale is carried on at a brisk but not hurried pace and once again I marvel at the lightness and dexterity of Moravec's passage work as he brings the concerto to a fitting end.
This performance is one of the best I've ever heard and only the Gilels/Ludwig ranks alongside it. The likes of Rubinstein, Backhaus, Perahia and Schnabel have produced excellent performances of this work but all have at least one flaw. I can't find any in the Moravec. It's a justifiably acclaimed performance and all lovers of this Beethoven concerto should have it in their collection.
I was also very taken by the way Moravec handles the Op 90 sonata. I'd not really liked the work much until I heard him play it. He takes the first movement at a faster pace than most and makes it work. This movement can often sound leaden and dull and Moravec manages to brighten it up and minimises the bass notes in the left hand to good effect. He also contrasts that with a lyrical, almost bucolic finale. The two movements, for the first time in my listening experience, appear to belong together such is Moravec's skill with tempo and phrasing.
The 32 variations are well played but I can think of others who I prefer in this work, Gilels, oddly enough, being at the top of the list.
I'd buy this disc for the concerto alone but also for the E minor sonata. Both are sublime examples of an extraordinary pianist in his prime.
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Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto no.4
Piano Sonata no.27
Ivan Moravec - Piano
Piano Concerto No.4 In G, Op.58
- Allegro moderato
- Andante con moto
- Allegro Vivace
Piano Sonata In E,Op.90
- Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfinung und Ausdruck
- Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutregen
- 32 Var On An Original Theme In c