Murray Perahia at the Barbican

Partita in B flat, BWV825
Piano Sonata in F, K332
Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op.24

Murray Perahia (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 5 February, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This programme was certainly heavyweight, an exploration of almost 150 years of Austro-German keyboard tradition.

Murray Perahia. ©Sony Music EntertainmentThe Bach demonstrated Murray Perahia’s absolute command of rubato, touch and pedalling. The ‘Praeludium’ was limpid, the ‘Allemande’ and ‘Corrente’ bounced along with superb interplay of the hands. At the start of the slow ‘Sarabande’ I looked round to see if any period-performance fanatics were being carried out! Here was high romanticism, with every pianistic device used to create pure poetry. Rhythmic deftness characterised the linked ‘Minuets’ and there was brilliant dynamic variation in the final ‘Giga’. Bach-playing really doesn’t come any better than this.

Mozart has long been a Perahia speciality and I doubt if you will hear a finer performance of the K332 Sonata. The first movement’s lyrical fecundity was presented in a very distinctive manner, each theme richly characterised, and the slow movement sang. Even the rather trite third movement didn’t outstay its welcome.

Perahia’s Beethoven will divide opinion. In the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata the opening lacked tension and menace and the second subject was bass- and pedal-heavy. Often it seemed as though sound, rather than form and emotion, was more important. The beginning of the Andante was too loud and over-pedalled, and there was little sense of emotional engagement with the music. In the finale the tempo was certainly Allegro ma non troppo and while the opening wash of sound was arresting, there was a lack of true concentration and power. In essence the performance lacked a unifying vision.

One could hardly say the same of the Brahms. The first Variation had a rollicking rhythm with delightful right-hand runs. Variations two, three and five were (unlike the Beethoven) suitably impressionistic and the Russian elements – including pre-echoes of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov – in seven and eight were vividly portrayed. And so it went on. The extended Fugue was strict and uncompromising. A great performance.

There were two Schubert Impromptus as encores – both from the D899 set, in A flat and E flat, and each a perfect fusion of drama and lyricism.

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