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Murray Perahia

We welcome this review from guest contributor Sophia Vastek, who was once again kindly filling in for your ailing moderator.

Murray Perahia:
available at Amazon
Bach, Partitas 1/5/6

available at Amazon
Partitas 2-4

Online scores:
Bach, Keyboard Partitas (BWV 825-30) | Schumann, Kinderszenen (op. 15) | Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 30 (op. 109) | Chopin, Mazurkas
Murray Perahia never plays a harsh note. His technique is flawless, his voicing exquisite, his understanding profound. So what, if anything, was missing this past Saturday afternoon when he opened the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Star Series with a well-received concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall? The program -- Beethoven's op. 109, Bach's sixth partita, Schumann’s Kinderszenen, and a selection of Chopin works -- was very Perahia, in fact quite similar to his 2007 recital at Strathmore. Each work was like a delicate digestif, even the at-times fiery Beethoven. After all, this is certainly what he is known for, with his perfectly controlled, refined touch, but should all of the works have been treated like light fare?

The Bach was exceedingly well done. Perahia's exploitation of the piano and its range of tools created a partita that really did sound harpsichord-like. His use of pedal at all the right moments, voicing of melodies (however slight), and small range of dynamics all lent beautifully to Bach that was both pianistic and aware of its source. The ornamentation in the gorgeous Sarabande was especially fine: woven, perfectly placed notes that effortlessly circled the melody. The Beethoven sonata, a decidedly quirky one, had a beautiful opening, as if the music had started long ago and he deigned to enter into it. Perahia really made us wait for that first moment of Beethovenian fiery passion, but when it did come in the Prestissimo, it was well worth the wait. It was playing of range, colors, and most importantly, passion, but as quickly as this pianist emerged, he also disappeared.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Perahia and Bach: a gentle fit (Washington Post, October 19)
Kinderszenen was the high point of the program, where Perahia seemed truly in his element. The music was light and oh so personable, but unfortunately, after this moment of clarity, Perahia went on to the Chopin portion of the program, which was a let-down following the crafted Schumann. Chopin’s mazurkas are particularly odd pieces that very much need accentuation of their oddness to work. Perahia really only touched the surface of the jarring lilt that is the mazurka dance, and without that, these pieces lacked inspiration and personality. Of course, despite this, Perahia’s playing was still gorgeous and immaculate, but this often meant a lack of a colorful spectrum, particularly in the Beethoven and Chopin works. Perhaps a perfect technique and beautiful sound aren’t everything.

The next important piano events in the WPAS series are the lecture by Alfred Brendel (November 16, 7 pm) at the Austrian Embassy and the multimedia recital by Leif Ove Andsnes (November 20, 7:30 pm) at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The latter will pair selections from Schumann's Kinderszenen and Mussorgsky's Memories of Childhood.

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