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Beauty Is Truth

New York
Carnegie Hall
05/11/2003 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita # 4
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata # 28
Franz Schubert: Sonata D 959

Murray Perahia (piano)

Attending well over 100 concerts a year makes one rather weary and wary, but does heighten one’s appreciation for the truly exceptional performance. Last evening at Carnegie Hall, the superb intellectual pianist Murray Perahia demonstrated the power of sheer beauty, a quality often ignored in modern deconstructed performance. Perahia, along with Maurizio Pollini, is the foremost advocate for the original composer, his adventurous forays into their masterworks always revelatory of the sublimity of structure and architectural symmetry. For this particular recital, the cerebral and the sensual formed a perfect union.

I have written before about Mr. Perahia’s unabashed modernism when dealing with the works of J.S. Bach. No puny fortepiano sound for this artist; rather a rich and full-bodied power extremely proud of its own ability to move and shake its listener. The secret to this type of zaftig Bach playing is to keep the individual notes pristine, emphasizing, even during the sybaritic, the purity of each tone. This requires a muscularity of touch rare since the advent of Romanticism. For Perahia there is no Busonian overlay. In his universe, one can directly scale the heights of both emotion and religiosity; in fact, they are one and the same. Even if one only cared about touch and technique, this would have been a stunning performance; the additional wonderment of rethinking the entire Baroque aesthetic made it extraordinary.

Moving on from the beauty of pure logic to that of cosmology, Perahia seized upon the first in that final series of Beethoven sonatas that deals with the infinite. Here the narrative power was paramount, the greatest story ever told. More of a standard thoughtful performance, ala Rudolf Serkin, this traversal of the ultimate question was steady and penetrating, this particular poet of the keyboard employing the most subtle of tempo changes as interrogatory marks. To even discuss his amazing accuracy is superfluous, but it should be pointed out that when Murray Perahia approaches a note, it is a virtual certainty that it will be struck in the very center of its key.

Saving the best for last, Perahia launched into a gorgeous rendition of that most tuneful of Schubert sonatas, the D959 (longtime American TV watchers will recognize the theme of the finale as that of the eighties sitcom Wings). This was music making that boldly emphasized the intrinsic melodiousness of that most inventive of tunesmiths, each section carried away on the winds of song. It occurred to me on the ride home that this much concentrated beauty was indeed a rare event in the concert hall and, upon reflection, what’s the point otherwise?

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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