Spirited Perahia Recital Shows Maturity—and Speed

United StatesUnited States Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Franck, Chopin: Murray Perahia (piano), Carnegie Hall, New York City. 1.4.2015 (BH)

Bach: French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 (ca. 1722-1725)
Haydn: Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI:46 (ca. 1767-1770)
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81A, “Les adieux” (1809-1810)
Franck: Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, Op. 21 (1884)
Chopin: Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 (ca. 1835)


At the close of this Carnegie Hall recital by eminent pianist Murray Perahia, the friend with me said, “It makes me so happy—he’s having such a good time.” Her assessment was accurate, and the audience apparently agreed with her, though attention to a few other matters would have made an even more satisfying evening. In Bach’s Sixth French Suite, poise coupled with firm accents made every moment glisten. But too-rapid tempi in some of the faster dances (like the Courante) reduced potential excitement to a blur.

Perahia coaxed out all the wit in Haydn’s Sonata in A-flat-major, with well-conceived contrasts. Carefully shaped phrases, especially the endings, helped make this closer to high drama. The beautiful second movement was deliberate, forthright—no schmaltz—coupled with appealing clarity. But the final Presto suffered again from excess speed, though the loss of articulation was offset by genuine sparkle. 

More successful was Beethoven’s “Les adieux” sonata, beginning with a carefully done, pensive opening movement, notable for firmly planted dotted rhythms and again, an appealing sense of theatricality. The brief Andante was also thoughtfully executed, even majestic, before the pianist plunged into the final movement’s upward flights spanning the keyboard. Here the haste resulted in a few note errors, though the dynamics span was impressive. 

If I didn’t quite warm up to Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue (Op. 21) as a piece, Perahia’s fluidity and intensity offset what would surely have been turgid in other hands. Textural care—impressive rumbling in the piano’s lower register—evoked the composer’s love of the pipe organ, and Perahia was at his best in the granitic fugue. And Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor—though again on the frantic side—was affecting overall, especially the gentler middle interlude. 

For his first encore, and some of the finest playing of the night, Perahia chose Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1, followed by a galloping “Traumes Wirren” (“Dream’s Confusions”) from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke.


Bruce Hodges




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