Perahia and St Martin – No.2 (12 March)

CPE Bach
Sinfonia in G, W182
Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546
Symphony No.104 in D (London)

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

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 March, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A shame that the brilliant E flat symphony, the first of JC Bach’s Op.18, was dropped for the rather dour piece by CPE that didn’t live up to its stern opening and ear-tweaking dynamic contrasts; a serious piece to be sure but overall too earnest to be inspired. That it was programme-changed “at the request of the orchestra” added to the mystery; Perahia though seemed familiar with it and guided the players through well enough.

This was an evening of civility, of good conversation. Perahia led the concerto exposition with articulacy, a perfect tempo for the work’s majesty – yet with the piano’s first entry, Perahia was slightly faster; there’s a problem if the soloist and conductor can’t agree with himself! This slightly nervy approach lasted the first movement despite much elegance from Perahia and the orchestra; the imaginative cadenza – Perahia’s own presumably – was the equivalent of someone saying something controversial at a polite dinner-party; and very welcome too! Yet, over a half-hour concerto, monotony did set it. Bar for bar there was much to enjoy, yet the musicians’ mutual regard held the music in check, enchanted though much of the slow movement was, and the Finale failed to raise the spirits, the slow interlude one diversion too many.

With a few more strings, the Adagio and Fugue would have been even more successful; certainly Perahia had the measure of it, not least in the muscle needed for the angular Fugue. Haydn’s ultimate symphony was vital and decorous but didn’t really get to the heart of this singular composer’s imagination and subterfuge; less quick tempi would have helped establish the music’s majesty and sense of culmination – both of Haydn’s symphonic mastery and his quintessential fin de siècle gathering of threads. The playing throughout was neat and attentive – and a special word for timpanist Tristan Fry who was superb in his precise placing of crisp-sounding notes.

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