Murray Perahia Concert – 25th June

Fantasia in C minor, K475
Sonata in B flat, D960
Ballade No.3 in A flat, Op.47
Etudes, from Op.25 – No.1 in A flat, No.2 in F minor, No.5 in E minor, No.6 in G sharp minor, No.11 in A minor & No.12 in C minor
Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor, Op.31
Nocturne in F, Op.15/1
Etude in G flat, Op.10/5

Murray Perahia (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 25 June, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

A recital by Murray Perahia needs no apologists; his playing is always a revelation. He is a byword for poetry without sacrifice of technical command, profundity without over-emotion. This recital to a very large degree conveyed these qualities.

One could have predicted that Perahia’s current Schubert interpretations would have a heroic and forthright side – more in the school of Brendel than of Curzon. The first movement of D960 (played with the exposition repeat) was as notable for pressing tempi and muscular repeated chords as for moments of relaxation. It was not uniformly successful – at times one wished for more of the melting sweetness Perahia produced at the end of the exposition, or just before the recapitulation. There was a similar effect in the ’Andante’ – where one might have hoped to be transported to permanent hypnotic enchantment, Perahia preferred to offer a constant sense of progress and motion, underlying the structure with bass notes played very deliberately, sometimes as if pizzicato. There were moments, if too few, of flawless lyrical repose – such as the second entry of the ’running water’ triplet figure; though, curiously, the uncanny transition into the light and lucidity of C major – bar 103 – emerged as matter-of-fact.

It is impossible to imagine playing the scherzo except as the lightest of dances – Perahia did not disappoint. Here was reminiscence to the grace and carefree skipping of his early Schubert recordings; after a return to seriousness in the trio, which was driven by the rhythmic pulse of the left-hand part, the unreflecting, cheerful mood was preserved into the finale. I have no doubt that it was these two movements, the music left to speak for itself, perfectly delivered and never over-interpreted, which were the most successful.

The recital had begun with Mozart, an account of the C minor Fantasia that was always lucid and correct, played with authority and long experience – but which lacked the last ounce of magic or originality.

Perahia’s Sony recording of Chopin’s Ballades is a world-beater; the third of the set made an exemplary start to his Chopin group. In general, one might say that the bigger canvas of openly-pianistic romantic writing is Perahia’s for the taking. The elegant shaping of the left-hand melodic voice revealed someone who can balance ideally the composer’s emotional profundity and his salon display.Perahia dealt effortlessly with the technical demands, and conveyed melody with equal warmth whether in single lines or fistfuls of chords; it was a wonderful match of technique and musicality.

Could Perahia be as successful with his selection from the Etudes, pieces legendary for being musically interesting (particularly the Op.25 set), yet anchored in their intention of cultivating technique? Well, he came close. Perhaps No.12 was too even and unemotional – an exercise in arpeggios; perhaps No.1 lacked a little of the most elfin magic. No.2 however was pitched wonderfully in terms of delicacy and sensitivity to the counter-melody in the bass, and No.5 suitably contrasted the goblin-like chromatic jumps of the outer sections with the broad melody in the centre. As so often in his playing, an absolute certainty of bass line and rhythm gave Perahia’s playing a constant sense of structure, a focus. Perahia concluded his selection with ’Winter Wind’ (No.11), probably the hardest of all Chopin’s studies, one where a bold commitment to exhibition, such as Perahia made, is no handicap to a stirring account.

The Second Scherzo received a powerful and impassioned performance – Perahia made light of the technical difficulties and the rapid figurations, perfectly brought out the singing bass line and drove the piece inevitably to its heroic conclusion. Not all Perahia’s Chopin was of equal quality: after the scherzo, the F major Nocturne made a suitable contrast as an encore, but lacked the last degree of softness – orating much, yielding little. Sadly, the ’Black Keys’ Etude (Op.10/5) which followed was neither light, nor accurate, and ended with an untidy flourish. Perahia was quick to redeem himself and end the evening ideally with a performance of the third of the Op.25 set that was mercurial, fleet and consummately judged.

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