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Music of Adoration and Joy

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
03/25/2012 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: French Suite No. 5 in G Major
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Opus 90
Johannes Brahms: Klavierstücke, Op. 119
Franz Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D.664
Frédéric Chopin: Polonaise in C-sharp Minor – Prelude in F-sharp Minor – Mazurka in C-sharp Minor – Scherzo in C-sharp Minor

Murray Perahia (Pianist)

M. Perahia (© Courtesy of the artist)

Like the mythical Pegasus, Murray Perahia descends once a year onto New York, blesses us with two hours of unimaginable pleasure, then soars off, leaving us spectators wondering if this was appearance or apparition.

Of course he flies off to other concert halls. But one imagines Mr. Perahia’s residence in a Celestial Sphere, practicing scales in front of the Almighty. (The Latter being the only One with the Divine Temerity to adequately describe this pianist.)

Yet one must reluctantly describe a program which was as immaculately laid out as the pianist played it. This, Mr. Perahia’s only New York recital, encompassed eight variations on a state of euphoria, beginning with dances and ending with (etymologically, if not actually) a joke.

The dances were provided by a French suite. (An English suite would have bedeviled us with a solemn prelude.) It continued with a Beethoven sonata breathing carefree joy, and finished the first half with Brahms’ music which, written in his last year, defied death. The second half was a Schubert sonata which gave only nominal allegiance to a sigh or two. Otherwise it was pure song. The Chopin pieces were equally joyful: two dances and, yes, that scherzo.

If the recital was arranged immaculately, Mr. Perahia performed with a poetry that defies words. His Bach Suite was given the full piano treatment, pedals and all, with nuances which brought out the two spidery lines in the sarabande, and made the final gigue into–well, into a jolly jig!

One can only imagine old J.S. lounging on his special cloud, musing “If only I’d had a big-toned Steinway instead of that clanging clunking Model T harpsichord.” And then sighing, “And if only I’d had Perahia to perform it.”

Mr. Perahia’s integrity didn’t preclude a sense of improvisation in the first movement of the Beethoven E Minor Sonata. It is hardly kosher to read Beethoven’s mood when he was composing. But the way Mr. Perahia performed, one felt that Beethoven was having a splendid time plunking on his Broadwood Grand, not bothering to tie things together Mr. Perahia gave it that same easygoing engagement, before surveying the lovely song in the andante cantabile movement. This was not elegance (which assumes an aristocratic audience), but classless human affection.

The contrast with Yefim Bronfmans’ Brahms two nights ago was palpable. The Third Sonata was tough, young, muscular. The Opus 119 piano pieces, written in his last months, were subtle, skirting on the dance (especially the third Intermezzo) and victorious in in the finale Rhapsody.

Yet after the intermission, Schubert’s songs in the “little” A Major sonata were played once with a sense that he was listening to this music for the first time, with a sense of new understanding. The elegiac themes were luminous, and those strange parenthetical phrases were dark. It was a painting.

Of course the last Chopin pieces were played with dash, élan and all the other suitable adjectives. It was virtuosity, yes. But was clarity, balance, and, yes, the art of communicating music rather than “playing.”

At the conclusion (and a prudent single Schubert encore) we realized how fortunate we are. Nightly, New York presents pianists who are more audacious in their choices, more idiosyncratic in interpretation, more consciously brilliant in their technique.

Mr. Perahia, though, has a special virtue which trumps all of that. His music is that of poetry and painting. It sings, it delights, and offers unqualified, unalloyed joy.

Harry Rolnick



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