How’s this for high praise: “Ivan Moravec is the finest Czech Chopin interpreter of his generation. His is a polished aristocratic playing, harnessed to a technique of tremendous depth. His many virtues include the ability to sustain a singing line with a velvet tone, and to play a pure but vibrant pianissimo.”
Those words of praise from the pages of “The Art of the Piano,” a compendium of artists, composers, and literature for the instrument, by author David Dubal. But don’t take just his word for it. Try Donald Manildi’s “Great Pianists of the 20th Century:” “Each and every one of his recordings is a thing of beauty itself, rare and luminous as a Ming Vase.”
There’s no arguing the “rare” point. Ivan Moravec’s early career was typical of many artists living behind the Iron Curtain: smuggled tapes to the West, obscure record labels, late-blooming debuts. In Moravec’s case, that meant a recording contract with the Connoisseur Society, a little-known, but high quality American label. And it’s on the strength of just two mid-sixties recording sessions in Vienna that turned Ivan Moravec’s Chopin chops into the stuff of legend.
Four Ballades, Five Mazurkas, and a Barcarolle is the sum total of Moravec’s currently-available Chopin on CD. But in those grooves are a lifetime of experience for a pianist, who “has a seemingly limitless supply of techniques,” according to one critic. Says another: “Each of Moravec’s mazurkas also becomes an individual experience.” Born, bred, and to this day a resident of Prague, the unassuming Ivan Moravec brings to mind the words of his Slavic forebear Frydyerk Chopin: “I am only a pianist, If I happen to be worth something, it is very well.” - Benjamin K. Roe