April 1st, Carnegie Hall

MUSIC

Review: Murray Perahia at Carnegie Hall
By ANTHONY TOMMASINIAPRIL 3, 2015
Photo

Murray Perahia, who will turn 68 this month, performing in a recital at Carnegie Hall. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The beloved American pianist Murray Perahia turns 68 this month, an age at which you might expect him to be mellowing as an artist and reaching new realms of profundity.

Actually, Mr. Perahia has been playing with increasing boldness in recent years. On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, during a much-anticipated recital, he sometimes sounded like an impetuous youth, especially during the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat (Op. 81a).

Beethoven composed this piece as an expression of loss when Archduke Rudolf of Austria, his supporter and friend, had to leave Vienna with his family to escape Napoleon’s artillery barrage in 1809. Beethoven gave programmatic titles (in German) to the three movements: “The Farewell,” “Absence” and “The Reunion.” That finale, which begins with a spiraling flourish that leads to a joyous theme, usually comes across as almost giddy in its exuberance.

Mr. Perahia dove into the movement at a breakneck tempo and never let up. Given his renown as a pianist of scrupulous musicianship and elegance, he still managed to bring textural details and structural clarity to the music. But he certainly cut loose here. In repeated passages, he would play a thumping low octave with his left hand, then sweep up the keyboard in a burst of dizzying arpeggios, landing on a crackling high note. It was actually fun to see Mr. Perahia, who can seem very serious-minded, going a little wild in a Beethoven finale.

True to his conservative orientation, Mr. Perahia offered a program of classics, including a stately, perhaps too much so, account of Haydn’s Sonata in A flat (Hob. XVI: 46). He began with Bach’s French Suite No. 6 in E. He drew maximum lyricism from the flowing, undulant Allemande and rendered the Courante at a fleet tempo, with limpid touch, so that the music’s racing lines sounded like whirlwinds of sixteenth notes. He revealed the bittersweet inner life of the stately Polonaise and infused the final Gigue with hearty, bouncing happiness.

In Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Mr. Perahia was at his most rhapsodic, especially in the Prelude section, which came across like an improvisation in which a sighing motif inspires explorations of wandering chromatic harmony. He ended with Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor. While taking a hellbent tempo in the first section, he managed to dispatch Chopin’s teeming bursts with crispness and fire. His poetic, tender playing of the middle section was especially beautiful.

The enthusiastic audience wanted encores and got them. First a Chopin nocturne and then Schumann’s “Traumes Wirren” (“Dream’s Confusions”) from the Fantasy Pieces, a work Mr. Perahia recorded in 1973, at the beginning of a continuing relationship with Sony. His performance on Wednesday was riskier, more headstrong, than on that classic recording.

So much for mellowing in your late 60s.


The First 40 Years

In recognition of his 40th anniversary with the label, Sony Classical is proud to present Murray Perahia: The First 40 Years. This limited edition box set includes the artist’s complete recordings for Sony Classical on 68 CDs packaged in mini sleeves featuring the original album cover artwork.