His career is one for the ages, amongst the largest and most admired of his generation. An artist of uncommon poetry, 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 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 was the unpredictability of Murray Perahia’s artistry.
We needn't mention that he hit clinkers in the opening bars of Beethoven’s Appassionata, that an A-flat was missed in the melody of Chopin, Op. 25 No. 1, or that the measures before the Sostenuto of Chopin's Scherzo Op. 31 No. 2 went entirely missing: these are hazards of the perilous trade. But what I can report is that the performance was remarkable in spite of these, that the artist reveled in a different palette of sound and colour for each composer, in-line with the old Cortot cliché that even his mistakes are fabulous.
His creations are lively and unexpected, and where some are wont to give little or no thought to certain phrases, 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.
The matter of affinity is a mysterious one in music: that some performers are more suitable in the works of certain composers and not others is undeniable, easy to discern. Perahia has long been associated with Mozart, but his Appassionata was stunning from the very opening intervals. The execution of the Allegro assai was nuanced, virtuosic, often very ravishing. It is notable that where the inner-ear expects a phrase to go, Perahia often turns and goes the harder route. The Allegro ma non troppo took on a demonic fury that left audiences bewildered, and shaking their heads into the intermission.
Chopin's 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 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 wishes for a more vulgar, more brazen effect. However, watching the artist from the seventh row, we marveled at his technique, the minimal movement and expenditure of effort for his 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 playing Thursday evening at Davies came away with one conviction: the music of Murray Perahia is a rare and beautiful thing to behold.