Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us
Bach, Beethoven & Schumann

Murray Perahia (piano)

Bach Partita No 2 BWV 826
Beethoven Sonata No. 15, Op 28 (Pastorale)
Schumann Fantasiestuecke Op 12; Chopin Ballade No 4
Encores: Brahms Intermezzo Op 118/ 2; Chopin Etude Op 10/ 4

Barbican Hall 23 April 2007

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 obvious machismo and heroism – to pick up the Schumann theme, he became for a while Florestan, not Eusebius, but last night 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, likewise, was landscape rather than portrait, lyrical and unhurried. Not every movement fared equally well – but there were, as expected, moments of great insight and imagination. The perky staccato interlude in the Beethoven slow movement, the sweep and cadence of the rondo finale theme, the apprehensive disquiet of In der Nacht, the allusiveness of Traumes Wirren, they were all delightful. Conversely, in Aufschwung, or the march finale, one hankered after a Richter or an 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 Ballade and Etude were essentially clean and beautifully sculpted, though Perahia was technically 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, even without listening, 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 Partita; which went wrong as early as the second bar. One bar in the rondo 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. However, this is not the best-known of pieces and the audience seemed untroubled.

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 not the sense of overpowering greatness that came from hearing Horowitz, Cherkassky, or indeed, Richter.

Ying Chang