Murray Perahia

Schumann, Brahms, Chopin and Bach

Barbican Hall, 23 April 2007 5 stars


Murray Perahia's solo piano recital was sold out well in advance and the queue for return tickets before the concert was long. In the event Peraiha did not disappoint the nearly 2000-seat capacity audience, as he delivered perfection.

Although the large modern Steinway piano (with the lid wide open) was evident for all to see, it was still hard to believe that Perahia was not playing Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor (BWV 826) on some kind of an authentic baroque instrument. Though the sound was more penetrating than what we would expect from, for instance, a harpsichord, the purity of Perahia's tone was such that one could not help but feel the omnipotent presence of Scarlatti, Bach and other baroque giants. Even though Perahia's left foot seemed ready for action most of the time, he did very little pedalling (if at all) with either of his feet during the entire Partita. Whether by accident or design, the auditorium was darkened enough to imagine a candle-lit performance, thus further suggesting authenticity. Perahia gave value for money in more ways than one; all the repeats were observed meticulously in all six movements, thus giving us ample opportunities to absorb Perahia's masterly voice-leading which in turn determined his canvas of dynamics. Notwithstanding his obvious observance of rhythmic structure in all movements, Perahia nevertheless incorporated some very tasteful and beautiful rubatos in appropriate places. I was taken by surprise when the last movement ('Capriccio') followed the preceding 'Rondeaux' without any hint of a break, but artistic integrity was far from being compromised.

In the opening Allegro of Beethoven's Sonata in D major, Op. 28 Perahia showed us that there are infinite possibilities of performing composed accents (such as fp and sf), always depending on the musical content of the moment. Beethoven's simple song-like melody contrasting with an anxious quaver accompaniment (from about bar 340) was so beautifully implemented that it gave the illusion of sounding easy to play. The Andante, with Perahia's perfectly chosen tempo, indicated sounds of nature (such as bird-song-like passages from bar 22), deep sadness (from bar 40), serious drama (from bar 60) and nature's healing power (from bar 82). In the Scherzo theme the supremacy of melodic notes was clear (as opposed to the emphasis on the triad notes which is so often the case with lesser artists), while the final Rondo showed Perahia at his robust best. I could not help wondering, though, why he kept staring at the piano keyboard so much?

The first four pieces of Schumann's Fantasy Pieces Op.12 prompted Perahia to literally sit back (rather than slightly bend over the piano) and to give us plenty of well controlled pedalling. Obvious passion was appropriately disciplined, Schumann's instructions were honoured: nobody could have made gentler the passages which Schumann marked 'gently'. I was not sure why Perahia went almost straight into the 'Fable' after the extended 'In the Night' but his exquisite voice leading over busy semiquaver decorations in 'Restless Dreams' was exemplary. Interestingly, the last note in this piece - marked short in my score - was played long, perhaps indicating that even restless dreams come eventually to an end. The 'End of the Song' was again a masterclass in exemplary voice-leading and was also hugely pleasurable to listen to.

In Chopin's Ballade No.4 in F minor Op. 52 Perahia was gentle and poetic (when so required) but he also structured the passionate sections entirely convincingly. The respite (after an extended passionate outburst) in bars 203 -210 was truly magical. Most of the time during this piece Perahia even looked like Chopin. Or were my ears deceiving my eyes?

To acknowledge the enthusiasm of his very appreciative audience, Perahia gave us two encores: Brahms' Intermezzo and Chopin's virtuoso Etude in C sharp minor. The latter was astonishing; how did Perahia have the energy to conclude his extensive recital with such a fast piece with semiquaver passages throughout? And how perfectly he played the piece!

By Agnes Kory