Memorable Beethoven Crowns Murray Perahia’s Barbican Recital


Bach, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven: Murray Perahia (piano). Barbican Hall, London, 11.6.2017. (CC)

Bach – French Suite No.6 in E BWV817
Schubert – Four Impromptus D935
Mozart – Rondo in A minor K511
Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor Op.111

This solo recital was part of the “Barbican Presents” series and it featured core Perahia repertoire. Perahia released last year a set of the Bach French Suites (reviewed by Dominy Clements for Musicweb International here). That DG album was a dream of a set, containing simply stunning pianism. Tonight we heard the sixth French Suite. Despite a limpid opening there were a couple of slips in the opening Allemande; there were no such problems in the rapid-fire Courante, though. The Sarabande was the highlight, however, finding Perahia judging the emotion perfectly. Dignified and with superbly rendered ornamentation, it seemed to carry a world of weight on its shoulders, meaning its shadow carried over into the ensuing Gavotte. There was no doubting Perahia’s technique in the final movement, the Gigue.

The Schubert D935 Impromptus demonstrated just how sensitive Perahia is to each composer’s own soundworld. The perfectly judged drama of the first (F minor), coupled with superb pedalling, was an object lesson. Here, the odd slip hardly mattered; especially in the light of the glowing chords and gentle harmonic oscillations of the A flat. The set of five variations on a much-loved Schubert theme makes up the third Impromptu (Schubert used that very theme again in Rosamunde and in the D804 String Quartet). Both the first and last Impromptus of D935 reference Hungarian music; here in the final piece, Perahia was at his most detaché in touch, crisp and dance-like.

After the interval, it was Mozart’s astonishingly lachrymose A minor Rondo K511 that comprised the next stage of the journey towards late Beethoven. There was something subtly Chopinesque about Perahia’s intensely interior rendering. Perahia seemed to revel in the exploratory nature of the piece, which element perhaps makes it the perfect partner to Beethoven’s Op.111. Here, Perahia brought his full understanding of late Beethoven to bear, his harmonic grasp of the piece the bedrock of his interpretation. He provided, also, the best opening to the Allegro con brio ed appassionato that I have heard, live or on record, supremely thought-through and impeccably together between the hands. As to that dream of an Arietta that comprises the finale, Perahia provided us essentially with a guided tour of the Elysian Fields. Accuracy was excellent here, but more important than that was Perahia’s crystalline clarity throughout and his careful judgement of projection.

A deserved standing ovation perhaps surprisingly led to no encores. Beethoven’s final piano sonata ends so hauntingly that Perahia must have though nothing more needs to be said. If so, how right he is.

Colin Clarke

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  1. Chris says:

    I totally agree with the Beethoven comments. The performance was absolutely marvellous worthy of the standing ovation alone. There was a debate behind us afterwards that the first movement was too fast but what energy – definitely “con brio ed appassionato”!
    With 106 and 111 finally performed in concert presumably a mouthwatering Op101-Op111 on record from Murray cannot be far off – are you listening DG?
    The revisiting of the Schubert set for, I would think, the first time since the early 1980’s (other than as encores) was also really memorable. Ran the Beethoven really close for highlight of the evening.

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