‘Aldeburgh Recital’ (see above), and now here he is with a disc devoted to Brahms. Anyone who knows him chiefly for his Mozart playing of course recognises him to be an admirably refined artist, but even in that composer he has never lacked the kind of vigour that the later masters more obviously require – though in fact physical strength is unimportant to a pianist save for that of the fingers, and it is weight that helps to create powerful tone.
All three of Brahms’s piano sonatas are youthful works; indeed written before he was 21. The F minor is much the best of them, still with the grand keyboard-leonine manner of the other two and five movements to match the scale of the writing, but more subtle in language and, in the slower second and fourth movements (the latter a short but telling Intermezzo), more intimacy and poetry. Let me say at once that Perahia is remarkably fine in encompassing all this. Many pianists seem uneasy in the many and various transitions from one mood to another – for just one example, after the imperious loud rhetoric of the very opening, already in bar 7 we reach a mysterious pianissimo passage that then in turn gives way to more of the opening music – and find it hard to hold it all together. Here the interpretative problems seem not to exist, and indeed this big movement is handled with keen judgement. I recognize that some may feel that Perahia is over-free with tempo, say in the lead into the second subject (tonally magical though it is), but he never loses sight of the overall pace and we have a sense of space while retaining adequate momentum. The tempo, in fact, is unhurried (and in this connection he might point out that maestoso is marked as well as Allegro), but while he does not offer the impulsive young man’s bravura of Zimerman (DG) or the equally youthful ardour of Kocsis (Hungaroton), his sense of forward movement is as satisfying in its own way, and such hair-raising passages as the octaves at the start of the development are played, for once, with apparent ease where a lesser master such as the sensitive Izumi Tateno (Finlandia) is under evident strain. He is also more subtle, and much more subtly recorded, than Jonathan Plowright (Kingdom), whose Brahms playing is nevertheless refreshingly positive and whose disc is well filled at 79 minutes.
This is the place, too, to say that the problems recording engineers have with this kind of piano writing have been solved and the sound (from the Royce Hall in Los Angeles) is admirably faithful and enjoyable in all dynamics and textures – while the
24 Murray Perahia beautiful pedalling means that those textures are in themselves a delight. I have spent much space on just this movement, but suffice it to say that its qualities of refinement and expressive intensity also distinguish the others. The two slower ones are wonderfully eloquent and the Andante has a noble climax (but also slight noise at 2’36”), while the Scherzo and finale are fleet-fingered as well as strong. The voicing of the right-hand chords at 1’50” in the finale is a sheer delight.
The other four pieces were recorded in a different location (in Hamburg) but are also satisfying, with tremendous springy vigour in the rhapsodies (try the one in E flat major for this) and all the brooding drama one could ask for in the tragic E flat minor Intermezzo. Though Perahia’s account of the sonata does not displace the fine performance of Kocsis and Zimerman, it joins them as among the best available. Indeed, here is a most distinguished issue. Christopher Headington (10/91)
Franck . Liszt Franck Prélude, chorale et finale Liszt Mephisto Waltz No 1, S514. Annees de pelerinage, premiere annêe, SI60, ‘Suisse’— Aubord d’une source; deuxieme armee, S161, ‘Italie’ — Sonetto 104 del Petrarca. Two Concert Studies, S145. Rhapsodie espagnole, S254 Murray Perahia pf Sony Classical (73 discs) 88691 91256-2
Liszt, Sonetto 104 – selected comparison:
Lortie (9/91) CHAN8900 A decade or so ago, a recital of Franck and Liszt from Murray Perahia might have caused some surprise. But one of the most refreshing things about this artist is his growing refusal to be typecast. The Franck
‘It is played with all Perahia’s customary command, finesse and what I can only describe as aristocratic discernment’
(like all but two of the Liszt pieces) was recorded at The Maltings in Snape, a venue he knows and likes so well. This I enjoyed for its stylish reminders of the composer’s long devotion to the church – i.e. for a strain of simple devoutness, free from all heart-on-sleeve emotionalism, with which he invests the first two movements. The central chorale is allowed an easy flow, and I liked his dynamic restraint in the first two statements of the chorale theme itself so as to leave plenty in reserve for the characteristically Franckian emergence from darkness into light as the work progresses. Discreet pedalling ensures that texture never clots in the fugue, and the homecoming is truly joyous.
The rest of the 60 minutes go to Liszt, and here my only slight (but only very slight) disappointment came in the Mephisto Waltz, recorded in UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. Needless to say it is played with all Perahia’s customary command, finesse and what I can only describe as aristocratic musical discernment. Yet I still felt that just that last touch of devilry was missing on the dance-floor (even more piquant accentuation might perhaps have helped), and likewise the ultimate in lingering sensuous seduction in Liszt’s ‘lascivious, caressing dreams of love’.
For the rest I have nothing but praise – starting with the cutting intensity Perahia brings to the melodic line in Petrarch’s tale of unrequited love (‘Sonetto 104’). By comparison, Louis Lortie on Chandos (in a less forward and less sharp-cut sounding recent Maltings recording) seems to shrink from this sonnet’s acutest disquiet and pain – such as in the passage marked agitato, and then crescendo and rinforzando from about 3’46”-4’17” in track 5 of Perahia’s disc. Perahia’s liquidity in ‘Au bord d’une source’ and shimmering whispers in the first Concert Study, ‘Waldesrauschen’ (as spacious as Arrau’s are wholly ravishing as sound per se, while ‘Gnomenreigen’ in its turn brings reminders of that delicately scintillating brilliance that always gave him a place apart when gambolling with Mendelssohn in concerto finales. His range of keyboard colour in the concluding Rhapsodie espagnole (the second and finer of Liszt’s pair) is as ear-catching as are his rhythmic spring, his teasing caprice and his exuberant climaxes.
Full marks to his engineers for so faithfully capturing so wide a dynamic range – and, incidentally, to Sony for including so generously spacious a booklet (with full quotations from Lenau, Petrarch and Schiller). Joan Chissell (10/91)
Mozart Piano Sonatas – A minor, K310/K300d; A, K331/300i; F, K533/494 Murray Perahia pf Sony Classical SK48233 (64’ • DDD)