MURRAY Perahia belongs to the small roll-call of living pianists whose name evokes a certain air of mystique.
Unlike Evgeny Kissin, whose recital two years ago was an all-Liszt extravaganza, Perahia offered Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin for his Australian debut.
Perahia’s pianism was based on consistent virtues: crystalline articulation, superbly controlled dynamics, a lustrous, evenly sustained tone and a distinctive understanding of musical structure. He is renowned as one of the greatest Bach interpreters of our age and his refined performance of the French Suite No 4 showed why.
Expansive tempos and curvaceous phrasing created graceful accounts of the slower dances, particularly the Allemande and Sarabande. Textural clarity illuminated the fast movements’ intricate counterpoint while his alert rhythms and scintillating trills brought out their vivacity.
Perahia’s distinctive approach to musical structure was apparent in Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata, Op 57. Everything he did turned out to be focused on the tragic finale.
That’s not to say what preceded it was perfunctory. He achieved an exemplary balance of other-worldly mystery and restrained passion in the opening movement. The slow movement was a miracle of hushed intensity.
The slow-burning arc he’d carefully constructed then exploded into an overwhelmingly tempestuous account of the finale. Swirling clusters of notes and emphatic chords made a ferocious impact yet were generated with no loss of clarity or precision.
It was a remarkable and revelatory performance.
In the recital’s second half, Perahia entered the romantic worlds of Schumann and Chopin.
Schumann’s Carnival Scenes from Vienna is not one of the composer’s finest pieces yet Perahia never failed to find something insightful to say. His lilting rubato and sudden tempo and dynamic changes captured the composer’s capriciousness and dreaminess. He revealed hidden depths in the Romanze, his incisive rhythms enlivened the Scherzino and he displayed flamboyant virtuosity in the outer movements.
Perahia’s search for spontaneity brought him slightly undone in Chopin’s Impromptu No 2. Although smoothly shaped, his account was undermined by tempos and sectional transitions that were too swift and unyielding.
However, his dramatic performance of the same composer’s Scherzo No 2 was magnificent. So were the three encores that followed: a Schubert impromptu and two Chopin etudes.
Program repeated tonight at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Sold out. Phone (03) 9699 3333 to join the waiting list.
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, November 1.