Murray Perahia

Partita in C minor, BWV826
Sonata in D, Op.28 (Pastoral)
Fantasiestücke, Op.12
Ballade in F minor, Op.52

Murray Perahia (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 23 April, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Murray Perahia has made his reputation on poetry, not power. For a short time after his return from his career-threatening accident, he played with greater machismo and heroism – he became for a while Florestan, not Eusebius, to pick up the Schumann theme, but, at this recital, he returned to his characteristic, silken interpretations.

Whether in Schumann’s wayward, disjointed miniatures, with their quicksilver changes of mood, or in a bucolic, neat but relaxed reading of the Beethoven sonata, Perahia emphasised flow and suppleness above drama or hectoring rhetoric. His Brahms encore (from Opus 118), likewise, was landscape rather than portrait, lyrical and unhurried. Not every movement fared as well – but there were, as expected, moments of great insight and imagination. The perky staccato interlude in Beethoven’s slow movement, the sweep and cadence of the finale’s rondo theme, and, from Schumann, the apprehensive disquiet of ‘In der Nacht’ and the allusiveness of ‘Traumes Wirren’ were all delightful. Conversely, in ‘Aufschwung’, one hankered after Richter and Argerich – to take the piece by the scruff of its neck.

Perahia has become a famous Chopin interpreter; again, this is because he can catch the sense of yielding vulnerability deep in the composer’s soul. Both this Ballade, and the Etude (the fourth piece of the Opus 10 set) offered as a second encore, were essentially clean and beautifully sculpted, though technically Perahia was quite cautious, hardly ever letting himself go. The coda of the Ballade, for example, was almost timid, compared to the flourish that immediately preceded it.

Perahia, despite his vast experience, can be a nervous performer, and each half got off to a shaky start. This was literally true, since his hands could be observed visibly trembling before he played. Perhaps as a result, there were a number of extraordinary errors in the Bach, which went wrong as early as the second bar. One bar in the Beethoven was sufficiently askew that Perahia was constrained to play it twice. If Perahia were not a luminary, but a competition entrant, these technical shortcomings would have eliminated him in its first round.

Overall, this was a recital that took its cue from Perahia’s self-effacing platform manner. It was individual and distinctive, but not transcendental. Much to enjoy, but without the sense of overpowering greatness that came from hearing Horowitz, Cherkassky or Richter.

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