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S & H Recital Review

Janacek, Smetana, Suk, Ivan Moravec (piano), LSO St Luke’s, Old Street EC1, 13th May 2004 (MB)



Very much a ‘pianist’s pianist’, as Michelangeli (also Moravec’s teacher) was, Ivan Moravec is considered by many to be the greatest living exponent of the instrument. He shoulders that reputation – and it is a deserved one – with his usual self-effacing modesty; here is a pianist with no affectation, no interpretative baggage and no larger than life personality. What you get with Moravec is the music - and playing of such perfection, such soulfulness and such sheer beauty that he holds his audience spellbound. This is quite literally the first recital I have attended in more than 20 years of going to instrumental and song recitals that was listened to in awed silence: not one cough, not one splutter, not one mobile ‘phone. It was an hour of the highest quality pianism listened to in ideal circumstances.

The warmth of the acoustic at St Luke’s could only help Moravec’s famed velvety tone emerge as it should. His keyboard control – impressively untouched by age (he is now 74) - verges between pianissimi of breathtaking stillness to fortes of savage – yet controlled – intensity. Both were evident in a profound performance of Janacek’s great 1923 Sonata 1.X.1905 ("From the Street"), one of the most anguished of all twentieth century piano works (incomplete though it is). Whether it be in the calm wistfulness of ‘Foreboding’ or the frenzied angst that illuminates the central section of ‘Death’ there could be no doubt that Moravec was utterly inside the composer’s idiom. This performance had a rare emotional strength to it; combined with transcendental keyboard colour it is hard to imagine a better one than we heard here.

This was also the case with the two composers Moravec programmed beside the sonata: Smetana and Suk. The formers Polka in G minor and Polka in A minor, both as infectious in their rhythmic control as they were brooding in their colour, were spontaneous vignettes; Suk’s Humoresque in C major and Humoresque, Op.7 No 2 were delivered with panache and brilliance. That careful pedal control – so evident throughout the recital – merely added to the impression that here was a pianist who not only knows this music intimately but with every keystroke laid open a world of intimate emotion, captured with rapturous tone.

There can be no complaints about the music making. However, this was by no means a sold out recital (it should have been); the LSO needs to do more to increase awareness of these Thursday lunchtime concerts. A broadcast of the concert can be heard on BBC Radio 3 on 20th October 2004 at 1pm. It is well worth catching.

Marc Bridle


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