sChopin Piano Concertos – No 1 in E minor, Op 11; No 2 in F minor, Op 21 Murray Perahia pf Israel Philharmonic Orchestra / Zubin Mehta Sony Classical 88697 64823-2 Recorded at performances in the Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv in 1989
Selected comparison – coupled as above:
Zimerman, Los Angeles PO, Giulini (9/86) 415 970-2GH Piano Concerto No 1 – selected comparison: Pollini, Philh, Kletzki (9/87) CDM7 69004-2 Piano Concerto No 2 – selected comparison:
Cherkassky, RPO, Kempe (1/89) 160 013-2 Despite the attendant hazards, Perahia has never made any secret of his liking for the ‘inspirational heat-of-the-moment’ of a live performance as opposed to a studio recording, where ‘sometimes things get tame’. As enthusiastic audience applause (albeit discreetly rationed on the disc) makes plain, these two concertos were in fact recorded live at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium last year. Whether they were subsequently ‘doctored’ I don’t know. But the finished product brings us a Perahia miraculously combining exceptional finesse with an equally exceptional urgency.
In all but the finale of the E minor Concerto (where Pollini on EMI at mid-price beats him by a minute) his timings throughout both works are considerably faster than those of the rivals listed above. Was this, I wonder, prompted by ‘inspirational heat-ofthe-moment’? Or was it a deliberate attempt to come closer than others do to the surprisingly briskish metronome markings printed in the Eulenberg scores? In one way both lengthy first movements gain from so strong a sense of direction – and incidentally response to the several risoluto indications used by the composer is always very marked. But I did still sometimes wonder – especially in Mehta’s emphatic, no-nonsense introductions and later tuttis – if resolution is sometimes achieved at the cost of a measure of the maestoso requested in both movements’ headings.
The two slow movements are distinguished by exquisitely limpid cantabile and superfine delicacy of decorative detail while again conveying more urgent undercurrents than we often hear (incidentally Perahia’s fiery low B flat in the Larghetto of the F minor work at
22 Murray Perahia
6’17” in track 5 is one of several instances on the disc of forceful left-hand point-making). But in a guessing-game perhaps it would be the two finales that would most betray the identity of the soloist. Not only are they faster, but also of a more scintillating, scherzando-like lightness than anything else on the market – almost as if Chopin was as bewitched by the world of elves and sprites as Mendelssohn.
The recording is first rate – not too close, and with ideal balance between the richsounding but clearly reproduced Israel Philharmonic and Perahia’s glistening piano. As sound per se I would certainly recommend it in preference to the two rival DG couplings. Zimerman’s piano is rather too forward in his ripely reproduced performances with Giulini and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And though keyboard tone and balance are excellent in Vasary’s recently reissued DG
‘The finished product brings us Perahia miraculously combining exceptional finesse with an equally exceptional urgency’
performances with the Berlin Philharmonic under Semkow and Kulka, certain fuller tuttis slightly betray the age of these recordings in less than ideal translucency. But I still have a very deep respect and affection for the Chopin given us by the utterly spontaneous yet authoritative Zimerman and the poetically lyrical Vasáry, who with their conductors allow themselves just a little more time to admire the view, as it were, in the course of their journeys. Nor should anyone ever forget the young Pollini in Op 11 and Cherkassky (Menuet/Target) in Op 21 if you don’t happen to want the two works together. All in all an embarras des richesses from which to choose. Joan Chissell (6/90)
‘The Aldeburgh Recital’ Beethoven 32 Variations in C minor on an Original Theme, WoO80 Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op 26. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No 12, S244. Consolation No 3 in D flat, S172. Rachmaninov Etudes-tableaux, Op 33 – No 2 in C. Etudes-tableaux, Op 39 – No 5 in E flat minor; No 6 in A minor; No 9 in D
Murray Perahia pf Sony Classical (73 discs) 88691 91256-2
As this disc, recorded at The Maltings, Snape, is billed as ‘The Aldeburgh Recital’, I suspect that many people may jump to the conclusion (as I did) that it is a live festival event. But no. The programme is one that Perahia had recently (in May 1989) played at London’s Royal Festival Hall, and wished to record in a venue of his choice. So none of its 59 minutes are vitiated by coughs or squandered in applause.
In his perceptive booklet-notes Robert Henderson reminds us that the dissatisfied Beethoven eventually ‘disowned’ his C minor Variations of 1806. Yes, in the schoolroom they can sound episodic, even retrogressive. But what a different story when given the continuity and suggestion of cumulative import underpinning Perahia’s sharp-cut characterization. In Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien I particularly welcomed his delectable lightness of touch, rhythmic élan and spontaneous fancy in the three livelier movements – so often allowed to sound too heavy, too patterned. The second movement tells its plaintive tale within the composer’s prescribed ziemlich langsam (‘rather slower’) instead of the molto lento sometimes heard, and he ensures that the Intermezzo, for all the turbulence of its accompaniment, is carried along on wings of song.
Amazed as I was to find Perahia launching his second half with a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, what choicer one could he have picked than the twelfth. Though one or two tiny quibbles about rubato (less than wholly seductively tzigane) and balance between the hands in earlier returns of the ‘motto’ found their way on to my note-pad, I still enjoyed the immediacy of his response to mood-change as much as I did the glistening delicacy of his fingerwork in the concluding friska. But predictably it is in Liszt’s D flat Consolation that we meet Perahia at his most intimately refined and poetic, with a melody floated like a voice from another world. The last three Etudes-tableaux bring the recital to a rousing end. But it’s the more lyrically nostalgic C major piece from the earlier set that again puts this artist in a place apart. Helped no doubt by Perahia’s own discreet gramophone.co.uk