Harrods International Piano Series – Alfredo Perl

Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue BWV 903
Partita No.1 in B flat BWV 825
Suite for Piano, Op.25
Fantasia and Fugue on BACH
Sonata in B flat D960

Alfredo Perl

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 16 January, 2001
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The best thing about Alfredo Perl’s playing is his una corda tone. Frequently employed, it adds a silvery clarity to his already satiny, round tone, which beautifully nuanced the inner-voices of Bach, the stubborn difficulty of Schoenberg, and the reflective intervals that separate all those moments of heroic display in Liszt. It was truly, like his first encore, Un sospiro, a gentle sigh.

Alfredo Perl is a self-effacing showman, and a virtuoso classicist. He easily rose to every technical challenge, his playing never seemed insecure or effortful, yet he always resisted – even by his modest platform manner – any display for its own sake. He preferred his Bach Partita movements, for example, to be measured and controlled (the finger-work is often used as a showpiece); in the Piano Suite, a cantabile-touch and an emphatic rhythmic pulse reminded us of Schoenberg’s classical and romantic heritage. This was a recital that emphasised the continuity of the whole keyboard tradition, and linked it together with a creamy, singing tone.

Perl’s Bach was always warm and affectionate, even romantic, but without ever becoming undisciplined. The inner- and bass-voices sang out clearly; he was never afraid to use the pedal to diversify the range of colour. Perl has obviously thought deeply about how to balance polyphonic distinctness and pianistic warmth in Bach; the result is individual and successful, even if it never attains quite the drama and poetry of a Perahia or the absolute crispness and balance of Angela Hewitt. Perl’s approach was perfectly suited to Liszt, where, in both the Fantasia and Fugue and the encore, virtuosic figuration was magically utilised to serve a wider musical statement.

Anticipating Perl’s musical credentials to be ideal for Schubert, and above all for his last sonata, the most lyrical of them all, one of the most poignant of any composers’ swan-song and one of the truest examinations of a pianist’s musicality … but, no. As if performer and piece were too well suited, Perl had a tendency to gild the lily and to manufacture effects that were already integrally written into the music. The first movement had an Olympian, almost Richter-like slowness (including the long exposition repeat), but, despite so many perfectly turned phrases, the overall vision was slightly lost. The over-use of una corda in the slow movement and finale ironically turned Perl’s greatest asset against him – the last two, lighter, movements were less a cathartic resolution from emotional depth than light-hearted relief from something too histrionic and over-indulged.

Alfredo Perl is often touted as the new Claudio Arrau. He has all the makings – an impeccable technique, a deeply-felt Romantic sensibility and clarity of thought and tone. But he is still growing into Arrau’s sureness and magisterial authority. What a prospect when he does.

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