Sonata in G, Op.31/1
Variations and fugue on a theme of Handel, Op.24
Murray Perahia (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 14 June, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
It’s strange how sometimes an encore can be a concert’s most successful item. Whilst one might cite the slow movement of the sonata, some of the Schumann, and individual variations, as being notable, none of the advertised works, when considered whole, could be counted a complete success in this the latest of Murray Perahia’s annual London recitals. Thus Schubert’s E flat Impromptu (from the D899 collection) stood out for its limpid erudition and just enough of an undercurrent to add an appropriate edge to Schubert’s rippling miniature.
Although Perahia’s refined sensibility is to be treasured, he can sometimes be a little reclusive, too classical, as the first movement of the Beethoven demonstrated – too fast, with characterisation hemmed-in, and not unbuttoned enough, more a toccata than a side-swipe at etiquette. The slow movement was eloquent though, with wonderfully shaped trills, and the Haydnesque teasing of the finale was delightfully done, although there’s a droller side to this music that Perahia eschewed.
Schumann’s set of eight Fantasy Pieces is, in theory, absolutely ideal for Perahia’s poetic gifts; and so it proved in the subtle and elusive numbers, but ‘Aufschwung’ (Soaring) was too deliberate and the ultimate movement was (surprisingly) rather circumspect and rhetorical, although Perahia’s ‘passion spent’ envoi was magical. Elsewhere, there was a deft and elfin account of ‘Traumes-Wirren’, an elegant ‘Grillen’, and an ideally contrasted ‘Fabel’.
Brahms’s Variations didn’t get off to the best of starts, for while one was considering just how Perahia was trilling Handel’s theme (which was more as Handel rather than Brahms would have done it), a whistle was in contention; presumably someone’s hearing-aid. That cleared, and Perahia’s generally lucid account could be savoured; again at its best in temperate moods and when Brahms’s writing is at its most luminous. Triumphantly, the fugue was, for once, an integrated conclusion free of pomposity, and although Perahia made heavy weather of some variations – especially the solemn No.13 – his general lack of exaggeration allowed the music to speak for itself. If there was a ‘lesson’, it was that Perahia underlined Brahms’s devotion to Bach. Of particular joy was Perahia’s beguiling rendering of the ‘musical box’ variation (No.22), which created a time of yore that was a genuine escape.