Over the years, I heard pianist Ivan Davis play many times, beginning with his New York debut recital in 1959 after he won the Liszt Competition. Davis, a longtime University of Miami professor who died this month, was a spectacular pianist.
In the early 1960s, when I was living at the Carillon Hotel on Miami Beach, before Ivan became artist-in-residence at the University of Miami, he would practice on my piano. My wife remembers that he was a wonderful cook.
In 1979 Peter McGrath and I started Audiofon Records. As Ivan was preparing for his 20th-anniversary recital, he was one of the first pianists we were fortunate enough to record. He recorded Liszt’s “Reminiscences de Norma.” Ivan considered it one of Liszt’s greatest creations as well as one of the “most stupendously difficult, both technically and architecturally.” His interest was stimulated after an unforgettable interpretation of Bellini’s heroine by Maria Calls in Paris. Writing for the 300 papers in the Newhouse syndicate, the distinguished critic Byron Belt wrote: “Greatest single piano recording ever.”
Ivan’s extensive knowledge of operatic and vocal music made him a frequent guest on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
He recorded “Rhapsody in Blue” both with the Cleveland Orchestra and in a reconstruction of the Paul Whiteman Historic Aeolian Hall Concert of 1924. At one recording session, Ivan was playing a stunning solo version of the Gershwin piece — until he suddenly exclaimed “Dammit!” and stopped. He didn’t like what he was doing and would not complete it.
Among the pianists of today, Ivan enjoyed Martha Argerich and Benjamin Grosvenor. However, for Ivan, Vladimir Horowitz was the most completely satisfying pianist, whose playing had a “wild, almost fury.” Ivan described Horowitz as having small hands that were not like the enormous hands of Richter or Cliburn, but, he said, “Horowitz’s hands were all muscle!”