Perahia and St Martin – No.1 (7 March)

Symphony No.7 in C (Le Midi)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Murray Perahia (piano)

Reviewed by: Jason Boyd

Reviewed: 7 March, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Murray Perahia is one of the greatest living pianists, noted now for his skills as a conductor, here working with the most recorded chamber orchestra performing works by the great trinity of the Classical era. An interesting choice of programme too, juxtaposing contrasting works in the same ceremonial key of C major, each composer having an influence on the next. Haydn has been dubbed the ’Father of the Symphony’ and although there were many bona fide symphony composers before Haydn announced himself in the 1750s, it was Haydn that brought the symphony to a new level – a sophisticated vehicle for wit, irony, pathos and drama. It would be difficult to imagine the glories of Mozart’s ’Jupiter’ without Haydn’s example. Beethoven benefited from lessons with Haydn and, like Mozart before him, Beethoven set out with his early piano concertos to conquer the Viennese public in the dual role of composer and virtuoso pianist.

Haydn’s Symphony No.7 is part of a trilogy requested by Prince Esterházy depicting different times of day and looks back to the concerto grosso in making use of solo instrumental lines. Opening with an ’Adagio’ – really quite slow here – Perahia evoked a certain dignity that failed to follow through to the ’Allegro’. Nevertheless, dialogue between solo instruments was beautifully elegant and balanced, particularly the violin and cello conversation during the second movement. Although technically a faultless performance there was a lack of life and energy.

Perahia seemed a different man in the ’Jupiter’, which had a more consistent sense of structure (despite ignoring the repeats in the second and fourth movements) and better shape – a particularly moving ’Andante cantabile’ seemed effortlessly lyrical. The Finale had all the ingredients of dazzling Mozart – beautiful contrasts between dynamics, well punctuated orchestral chords, smooth legato phrasing, even staccato; it was fast without being rushed.

The Beethoven concerto was unpretentious and articulate, Murray Perahia displaying unrivalled sensitivity and maturity. The tone throughout, but particularly in the ’Largo’ was warm and endearing; Perahia creates a sonority that seems to emerge from nowhere. Everything in the performance was well phrased and controlled although he could have made more of the sforzandos often found on the last quaver beat in the cheeky concluding Rondo. The orchestra emphasized this but Perahia made no such distinction, thus loosing syncopation and humour.

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