Murray Perahia at Avery Fisher Hall – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert & Chopin

French Suite in G, BWV816
Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, Op.90
Klavierstücke, Op.119
Piano Sonata in A, D664
Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op.26/1; Prelude in F sharp minor, Op.28/8; Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.30/4; Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39

Murray Perahia (piano)

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 25 March, 2012
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Murray Perahia. ©Sony Music EntertainmentMurray Perahia has delighted audiences with his outstanding musicianship for more than 35 years. Although this program was not adventurous, it was performed with greater intensity and vigor than I can recall in Perahia’s past performances and recordings.

Bach’s French Suites consist of a series of dances, juxtaposing popular and courtly pieces. Perahia gave the G major example a natural, unaffected reading, eschewing excessive ornamentation and stylistic mannerisms. The delicacy of his treatment of free-floating figuration, dreamy expressivity and playful vivacity all enriched the music.

Perahia played Beethoven’s brief E minor Piano Sonata as a dramatic tour de force with Schubertian overtones, his sometimes fierce intensity always under control, with clear lines subtly interwoven yet independently audible. The fervor of the coda at the end of the second of the two movements took my breath away.

The first half of the concert concluded with four Brahms Piano Pieces written a few years before his death. Perahia highlighted the special characteristics of each one, contrasting the lush chords and caressing lyricism of the first Intermezzo with the passionate, agitated outbursts that surround a nostalgic waltz in the Second. He emphasized the frivolity of the whimsical C major Intermezzo, with its capricious note-spinning. The concluding Rhapsody, Brahms’s last composition for solo piano, is reminiscent of his rowdy, youthful Hungarian Dances, relieved only by a soft yet incisive parody of the first theme that builds to a glorious reprise. The fervor of Perahia’s playing made this a highlight of the evening.

Perahia resumed after intermission with Schubert’s A major Piano Sonata, D664. Occasional major-to-minor key-shifts give the first of its three movements a bittersweet character, notwithstanding its otherwise sprightly main theme and forceful contrasting material. The second movement has the character of a love song, its directness and eloquent manner avoiding excessive emotion. A youthful ebullience pervades the finale, sometimes threatening to spill over into aggressive force, its tinkling waltz tune contrasting with the almost furious scalar phrases of the second theme. Perahia recreated these characteristics within a balanced view of the work that only threatened to tip over as the whirling dance theme became exceedingly aggressive during the closing section.

Perahia played the four Chopin works with greater power and dramatic flair than I have previously experienced. The stentorian opening chords of the C-sharp minor Polonaise and the fieriness of the succeeding figuration gave it a revolutionary character. Perahia imbued the F sharp minor Prelude and the C sharp minor Mazurka with an extra measure of vigor and aggressiveness, but it in the concluding Scherzo the music was set ablaze. As an encore, Perahia offered a vital rendition of Schubert’s E flat Impromptu given with riveting intensity.

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