Friday, 31 October 2008

Singapore Sun Festival 2008 / Murray Perahia Piano Recital: Review

Friday (24 October 2008)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review appeared in The Straits Times on 27 October 2008

There are only a dozen or so pianists on this planet who could sell out the 1600-seat Esplanade Concert Hall. American pianist Murray Perahia is one of them, and this reputation results from the success of his numerous recordings over the decades on CBS Masterworks and Sony Classical labels. Many of these have gained a status bordering definitive, and often regarded as the epitome of exemplary taste.

Perahia the “live” performer is a different spirit from Perahia the recording artist. What sounded cautious and politically correct on CD gave way to one who takes all kinds of risks and lives for the moment on stage. This was the fortunate outcome of his demanding two-hour recital, which showed why “live” concerts will never become obsolete.

His Bach Partita No.1 in B Flat Major was possessed with a wealth of sound that the composer could only dream of. His piano was both articulate and sonorous, something which would have been impossible to reproduce on the harpsichord. The spiritual heart of the 6-movement suite was its Sarabande, where the right hand wove its magical spell in an aria that would have delighted many a singer.

The coupling of Mozart’s Sonata in F major (K.332) and Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata in F minor (Op.57) was an excellent one. The former’s flowing lyricism culminated in a maelstrom of a finale, one of Mozart’s most taxing movements, which set the tone for the deeper undercurrents of the Beethoven.

Here Perahia plumbed the darkest recesses of Beethoven’s inner sanctum, and the violent rumblings and eruptions that issued forth both left one overawed and surprised. Surprised because the usually refined and restrained Perahia was capable of such a show of anger and defiance, but the fact remains: this is quintessential Beethoven.

His view of Chopin would again smash stereotypes. Gone is the effete salon-lounging prettiness, in its place raw emotion and frayed nerves. The Third and Fourth Ballades progressed from nostalgia and gentle disquiet to outright tragedy of epic proportions, and there were even moments to bring out and savour inner, hidden melodies.

Between these, he strung four varied Chopin Études, revealing the pristine technique and superior musical sense that distinguished his famous recording. Only a couple of measures near the opening of the Revolutionary Étude went awry, suggesting that ultimate control is not to be taken for granted.

There were three superb encores; two beloved Schubert Impromptus caressed with Perahia’s hallmark singing tone and a coruscating Chopin Étude in C Sharp Minor (Op.10 No.4), which brought the house on its feet. Such pianism, rather than pugilism, deserved nothing less.

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