hall type of balance is to my taste, and there is good presence to the sound and depth to the perspective. The presentation of the orchestral detail allows one to delight in it, and perhaps to discover new subtleties, without a moment of unease as to whether anything has been forced into the wrong kind of relief. How telling the timpani part is, for example, and not just at the end of the concerto; and the triplets of the violas, in the first movement, when the recapitulation comes into view; and just before that in the development the strings in contrary motion to the pianist’s octaves, with the dotted rhythm down below on the bassoon; and the edge given by the trumpets to the wind fanfares which set the soloist off on that furious passage; and in the slow movement the contributions of flute, clarinet and bassoon at the last appearance of the main theme, under the piano’s accompaniment, in that locus classicus of orchestration which Berlioz so admired. Did anyone ever say that Beethoven’s E flat Concerto was less interestingly written for the orchestra than the others?
Perahia’s performance has the freshness and natural authority one has now come to expect of him in Beethoven. His reading might be described as uncomplicated if that didn’t risk implying that it is in some way
‘Perahia’s performance has the freshness and natural authority one has now come to expect of him in Beethoven’
light-weight, or that he plays like a child of nature. The weight is certainly there, in sound (when he wants it) as in expression. Repeated hearings have increased my admiration for the first movement, which at first struck me as a succession of excellent things needing just a touch more breadth, or the suggestion of a wider horizon, in the overview. There are players who move this allegro on more and who seek to gather it up more obviously into a piece – even to propel the soloist’s flourishes at the beginning, as Schnabel does, as if they were a huge upbeat to what follows. Perahia is grand but more reflective, content to let the scale of the movement become apparent by degrees. Certainly he characterizes its great richness, and I do not find him over-discursive. A dynamic musical energy is always there, and he reveals the truth of the statement that Beethoven’s strength does not exclude delicacy and restraint.
Perahia himself has spoken of the happy experience of making this Beethoven cycle with Haitink. It has indeed been a successful
20 Murray Perahia collaboration, and a joyous quality about the music-making has communicated itself to me quite strongly from the beginning. Perahia (who is I’m sure the fiercest critic of his own records) has expressed himself pretty well pleased with the second and third movements of the Emperor – ‘I think they have something individual that I’m proud of.’ I think they do too, and for the moment I propose to leave it at that. Connoisseurs of fine piano playing will find much to interest them here, as well as in the first movement, and in the finale a virtuosity – which Beethoven invites – second to none. Stephen Plaistow (5/87)
Beethoven Piano Sonatas – D minor, Op 31 No 2, ‘Tempest’; E flat, Op 31 No 3; E flat, Op 81a, ‘Les adieux’ Murray Perahia pf Sony Classical (73 discs) 88691 91256-2
All these sonatas were recorded in New York but Les adieux was done in 1984, two years before the other two, and in a different studio. The sound is strikingly different: much more open, perhaps a little too reverberant, and the impression conveyed is of Perahia playing on-stage in a hall as opposed to in a studio. The acoustic colours the sound in a way I like and gives it not only more character but a wider range of dynamics than I hear elsewhere on this CD. The playing throughout is very fine, but in the two sonatas from Op 31 an atmosphere of ‘studio conditions’ seems to me to have taken something away from the richness behind the notes, or prevented Perahia from communicating it. For a start, you never hear him playing really quietly. What the studio acoustic adds, if it adds anything at all, is akin to strong daylight, with the sun directly overhead. Such illumination is all very well but it doesn’t do much for the sustained, interior quality of the slow movement of the D minor Sonata – where Brendel on Philips (1/85) strikes me as less fussy and a good deal more eloquent – nor for the extraordinary finale of this work, which should surely admit of some shadows or half-lights. Again, Brendel, caring less for elegance and an analytical clarity of sound, makes more of it. What Perahia does is never without interest but it does sometimes seem a little small. I enjoyed him more in the other Sonata from Op 31, the E flat, and liked in particular the whiff of excitement he brings to the finale. And it is not often one hears the first movement done with such grace, as if Beethoven was acknowledging in his inspiration what he owed to Haydn’s example, and in particular to the capricious side of Haydn’s genius.
But I enjoyed Perahia most of all in the other E flat Sonata, Les adieux. Here, I think, we have one of the most complete realizations of this work that has appeared on record in recent years. It is beautifully coloured and the urgency of expression in the quick movements is at once vivacious in effect (not to say electrifying) and perfectly controlled. The basic idea of departure and return, manifest in the thematic imagery as well as in Beethoven’s handling of movement and the passing of musical time, is strongly projected – in the central andante espressivo too, with its symbolic representation of waiting. And if one has missed quiet playing in the Op 31 sonatas, there is plenty here: in this slow movement, but also, most tellingly, in parts of the first allegro, at the start of the development and in the coda. The coda, indeed, is treated more reflectively and much more imaginatively than usual. There is no resisting Perahia in Beethoven when he plays like this. Stephen Plaistow (2/88)
Bartók . Haydn Bartók Sonata for two Pianos and Percussion, Sz110a Haydn Variations on a Theme by Haydn, ‘St Antoni’, Op 56b Murray Perahia, Sir Georg Solti pfs David Corkhill, Evelyn Glennie perc Sony Classical (73 discs) 88691 912562; ◊ Digital Classics DVDDC10043
Bartók – selected comparisons:
Argerich, Bishop-Kovacevich et al (1/87) 416 882-2PH Labèques et al (9/87) CDC7 47446-2 Perahia and Solti’s tempo for the Bartók first movement introduction is an immediate point in their favour. It is slower than marked, yet still a good deal faster than the two listed comparisons, which sound more portentous than atmospheric. In the main Allegro molto, tempos are again less extreme, at times reflecting slight technical limitations but at times giving a real gain in clarity – and the dangers of over-romanticizing (Argerich and Bishop-Kovacevich on Philips) or trying to shout one another down (Labèques on EMI) are avoided. There are hiccups which should not have found their way on to record involving all four musicians both individually and as an ensemble. The other versions are far from blameless, but if you know the piece and place a premium on accuracy, the new version is probably not for you. The sleeveinformation might usefully have commented on why the xylophone part is played an octave down – there is internal evidence to suggest that might be correct, but no other gramophone.co.uk