His career is one for the ages, amongst the largest and most admired of his generation. An artist of uncommon poetry and sensitivity, the approbation and admirers are found in the waves of piano students who flock to his recitals, in hopes of gleaning from the master.
Thursday evening was a reminder of the power and results of music-making by refined and legitimate means, the grace and craftsmanship of one whose pianistic lineage spans from Horszowski to Horowitz. And what impressed this listener most at Davies Symphony Hall was the unpredictability of Murray Perahia’s artistry.
I needn’t tell you that he hit clinkers in the opening bars of Beethoven’s Appasionata, that an A-flat was missed in the manageable Étude of Chopin, Op. 25 No. 1, or that a brief section went entirely missing before the Sostenuto of the Chopin Scherzo Op. 31 No. 2. These are hazards of the trade. What I can report, however, is that the performance was remarkable in spite of these: the artist reveling in a different palette of sound and colour for each composer, and in-line with the old Cortot cliché that even his mistakes are fabulous.
Where some are wont to give little or no thought to certain phrases within a piece, the winner of the 1972 Leeds Competition gave nothing to the whims or clichés of Romanticism – not in the youthful exuberance of Schumann’s Papillons, and certainly not in any of the Chopin offerings. His creations are lively and unexpected, and where the inner-ear expects a phrase to go, Perahia often turns and goes the harder route.
The matter of affinity is a mysterious one in music. That some performers are more suitable in the works of some composers and not others, is undeniable and easy to discern. Perahia has long been associated with Mozart, but his Appassionata, a cherished warhorse of the Beethoven repertoire, was stunning from the opening intervals. The execution of the Allegro assai was nuanced, virtuosic, and often very ravishing. The Allegro ma non troppo took on a demonic fury that left audiences shaking their heads into the intermission.
Perahia’s Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 4 in C-sharp minor impressed mightily with its balance and speed, and the Op. 25 No. 1 with its pronounced left-hand voicings and inner-rhythms, gave attention to gradients of color. His reading of the Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1 was straightforward, revealing an assimilation of detail that offered an altogether different interpretation from any recordings of renown. The artist gave one encore to close the recital: a gleaming Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2.
It is true what they say of Murray Perahia: he is neither the loudest nor the most powerful of pianists, and there are times when one would wish for a more vulgar, more brazen effect. However, watching him from the seventh row, we marveled at his technique, how little movement and expenditure of effort there is - even with the smallest digit – for his singing lyricism to reach the ends of the hall.
Some say he is the second-coming of Lipatti; others the best interpreter of Mozart of his generation. Anyone who heard his recital Thursday evening at Davies came away with one conviction: the music of Murray Perahia is a rare and beautiful thing to behold.