All of this music has been recorded many times over by musicians ranging from the dire to the sublime. For any Chopin recording to really stand out from the pack nowadays, it has to have some really special qualities. This is one of those recordings, and as someone who has never heard any other Moravec, it has made me eager to explore him further.
The B-flat minor Sonata of Chopin is a four-movement work cut from granite; the third movement is the Funeral March you hear at every memorial service today. The sonata can be shattering, but Moravec plays it with an inward expression I've never heard before in this piece, together with the most rounded tone to be recorded since Rubinstein. His interpretation is dramatic and majestic, not athletic, and certainly not bombastic.
The Berceuse is next, a short and deservedly popular cradle song which uses a gentle, rocking ostinato figure, practically unchanged through the entire piece, underneath what amounts to a kind of chaconne. I do not expect to ever hear it played with a greater inner peace than on this CD.
Following this little bon-bon is the great F minor Ballade, which is deeply tragic. A heavenly opening with subtle bell effects, which returns later in A major to great effect, is followed by a curiously obsessive theme which sounds like a song sung by a child in the wilderness. This theme keeps returning, in varied forms as the child grows into a full-fledged adult, until it returns one last time for the coda, in the form of an intense and furious two-part counterpoint which is among the most difficult passages in Chopin and leaves a strong psychological imprint.
Included in the CD are three Mazurkas, which are delightful. Strict Polish practice would entail prolonging the first beat for so long that it felt like a 4/4, rather than a 3/4 as notated. The usual approach today is to ignore this stylistic trait and play the Mazurkas like Waltzes, but Moravec's solution is to use a pungent rubato which fits the melody and accents its light, dance-like quality. Even if it is not a perfectly accurate mazurka style, Moravec is thoroughly charming.
The disc ends with the Fantaisie in F minor, a brilliant military-themed work which I both love and hate when I play it myself, because it is comfortable for the hand and very rewarding to listen to, but it is not easy to hold together structurally. This recording has gone a long way towards instructing me in how to do that. Without question, this Fantaisie stands head and shoulders over any other recording of this work I've heard, be it from Rubinstein, Pollini, Arrau, or Katchen, all legendary pianists in their own right.
In all, recommended in the strongest possible terms. Don't think twice.