A Poet Speaks

Murray Perahia in Rome tonight. A long awaited return with a recital of Bach BWV.817,Schubert D.935 Mozart and Beethoven op 111.
It was in 1972 that Murray Perahia took Leeds by storm with his poetic accounts of Schumann’s Davidsbundler ,Mendelssohn’s Sonata op.106 and Chopin’s First Piano Concerto.
I well remember the excitement as a student when he substituted in Rome that same year his mentor Rudolf Serkin in a recital of the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Pina Carmirelli in the  historic Sala dei Greci of the Conservatory. Even more engraved in my memory was his memorable accounts of the Schumann Fantasie and the Liszt Spanish Rhapsody many years later also in Rome in the Teatro Olimpico in his so called Horowitz period.
Celebrated worldwide for his rigorous musicianly accounts of the great masters this poet of the piano can shed new light on the most well known works in the piano repertoire.
So tonight it was a very welcome surprise for me to find that instead of the promised  “Hammerklavier” sonata – a magisterial account had just been heard at the Barbican in London and a new recording is imminent – we were to hear ,what for me is a new addition to his repertoire, Beethoven’s last sonata op 111.
A magisterial interpretation indeed that just missed that frenzied appassionate approach of Serkin that I remember so well from an unforgettable performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Maestoso indeed with the imperious opening bars which for me could have had more shape from mezzoforte leading to fortissimo although the final arrival was quite overwhelming .The short piano chords were rather lacking in weight for my taste but obviously he was thinking of wind instruments rather that strings .
Here was the same sense of sturm und drang though that I remember so well from his Hammerklavier fugue in London recently.
But here in this op.111 there was not quite yet the desperate frenzy that Serkin had been able to convey.
These are obviously early days for what will become one of the legendary interpretations of this elusive work.
The second movement played with all the orchestral colours that are necessary to give this work its strong masculine unsentimental character right from the seemingly simple Adagio molto semplice e cantabile.
The rhythmic build up was very impressive and totally convincing leading to the central outburst that can rarely have been given such an architectural sweep from the bass upwards .
The theme seeming to disintegrate before reappearing triumphantly on an inexorable wave that Perahia maintained in a very impressive unsentimental curve never lacking though in great inner passion .
Surely this is the very essence of these last utterings of Beethoven with the frustration of struggling with his deafness and seeming to totally ignore the limitations of the piano pushing it to its very limit in a revolutionary way.
The final appearance of the theme on a sustained trill, while not allowing the rhythmic impulse to lack for a second ,brought this performance to a very impressive ending.
I am sure in the series of performances that are surely planned that a true auror of sonorous magic will surround what is architecturally and musically already a very remarkable performance .
Perhaps it was a mistake to open the second half with the Rondo in A minor by Mozart.
Beautifully played ,of course ,but listening tonight it was obvious that even if op. 111 only lasts half the time of the Hammerklavier it is such a final statement that it needs to stand like a great monument in its own ground.
The first half consisted of Bach’s 6th French Suite .
Perahia has created a Bach style all his own that owes nothing to Schiff,Tureck, Gould or anyone else.
It is full of the most subtle character .Always in style and with great taste but with such a variety of colour and rhythm that it is quite extraordinary to behold .He almost convinces us that Bach must have envisaged this very instrument .
The well known Schubert Impromptus op 142 showed off all of the qualities that have made Perahia one of the rare musicians these days that one can really trust to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
He can make such a well known score re-live, finding details that seem to have been overlooked by so many other lesser interpreters.
The wonderful shaping and colours.
The sense of charm and and passion when required.
A sense of giving new life to such well known pieces by delving into the score with the eyes of a superlative intelligent thinking musician but always with the heart of a poet.
This is what makes Perahia one of the most interesting musicians before the public today. No encores possible after Beethoven’s last utterings although the numerous public flocked to the Parco della Musica in the Roman rain to hear this great pianist in Rome at last would have gladly sat through the other 31 Beethoven Sonatas.
Lets hope S.Cecilia will have learnt its lesson and not wait another 20 years before reinviting Perahia back to the Eternal City.

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