Reviewed: 17 April, 2013
Murray Perahia walked to the piano with diffidence, immaculate in his white tie and tails, and proceeded to play with a natural authority that compelled from first note to last. This was playing of conviction and clarity as well as technical mastery. The Haydn is about fifty years more recent than the Bach heard here, but it was right to have it first. Written for the harpsichord, it was only in the finale that the music muddied: the rapid brilliance that would come across on the intended instrument impossible to capture. The opening Allegro was caught on the wind, and nonchalantly dispatched. The central Adagio was the highlight, its second subject given with a haunting lilt, Perahia so sensitive.
Perahia’s manner – absorbed, reserved, and occasionally brave – served this French Suite well. With persuasive rubato, each movement was alive and fresh. With shoulders swaying to punch out the notes, Perahia also ‘let go’ to offer jauntiness, surprising himself with discovery. Beethoven’s ‘Les adieux’ Piano Sonata compelled, Perahia relishing its quicksilver character, and its diversions. The opening Adagio was pregnant with expectation, yielding to the luminous Allegro. The anguish of the middle movement was tinged with wistfulness and then capitulated to a brilliant finale, the writing’s high density played with precision and exuberance. The ‘surprise’ of the slow epilogue offered balm before Perahia confirmed victory.
Alas an interval! It sapped concentration and tension. Schubert’s Moments musicaux, although communicated with panache and unforced confidence, and occasional feistiness, only became enthralling with the Fifth (of six) in which Perahia found Byronic struggles and stunned emptiness. He then brought out the combustible genius of Chopin’s writing, enough to curb applause intruding before the B minor Scherzo, which was blessed with grand and heroic playing throughout. Encores were the Grazioso movement from Brahms’s Four Pieces (Opus 119), Chopin’s Nocturne in F (Opus 15/1) and an unfussy reading of Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat, from the D899 set.