Murray Perahia presents thrilling, engrossing piano music at Hill Auditorium
photo by Felix Broede
After how many piano concerts, wonderful ones, really, do we leave the hall commenting on the recitalist’s bravura technique, how quickly and surely he or she dispatched thickets of octaves or how softly a tender passage was sounded?
Leaving pianist Murray Perahia’s Hill Auditorium recital Saturday evening, I found that technique was pretty far from my mind and, I feel fairly certain, from the minds of most of the folks in the hall who had just finished giving Perahia a roaring, standing ovation.
A grand master of the instrument as there are few others, Perahia disappears before the music; he’s at the keyboard, but he is quiet, never a showman. Except that show the music he does, with a directness and simplicity that is art at its highest—and, often, at its most moving.
His program, at this University Musical Society event, was typical Perahia down to the last encore, Schubert’s E-flat Major Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 2, a favorite Perahia closer over the years. (The first encore was Brahms, the C Major Intermezzo from Op. 119.) In keeping with his predilections, it was music of the 18th and 19th centuries—classical- and romantic-era works—that occupied him. And that made for an extraordinarily engrossing evening.
The first half of the program was a spill of riches, laid out so quickly, one work after another, that it was almost a shame not to get to savor each a few seconds more before moving on to the next.
But that’s a nice (and pretty minor) complaint.
The Haydn Sonata in D Major (Hob. XVI:24), perhaps the least familiar work on the bill (and a new piece for Perahia) provided a champagne start to the program, clean and dry (in a very Bachian way), all effervescence and wit.
Though clarity remained, reflection soon took center stage, as Perahia returned to offer the six pithy, haunting pieces of Schubert’s “Moments musicaux.” Lovely taken one by one, these only gained force as a set in Perahia’s hands and imagination. In the play of light and shadow that Perahia conjured, in the summoning of wistfulness and jollity, of regret at life’s fleetingness and resignation at its finite span, the set very much recalled the moods and the thoughts that Schubert traces in his deep and monumental final sonata, D. 960.
In the Schubert, Perahia did not shy from lightness or prettiness, for example, in the lilting third piece of the set. But he also did not shy from power, or from a resonant, sonorous bass.
Indeed, throughout the evening, without ever losing the musical line, the links that add up to big structure, or the clarity of his sound, Perahia made the most of the instrument’s expressive qualities.
His Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata was as thrilling for the luminescence of the melodic line in the serene first movement as for the sunny lift of the second and the turbulence, the sheer nervousness, of the finale. It left you breathless.
And that was just the first half of the bill.
Post-intermission, Perahia offered Schumann’s “Faschingsswank aus Wien,” in a performance that was wonderfully unbridled, full throated and totally clear, all at the same time.
With two substantial Chopin pieces, the Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 36, and the Scherzo No. 1 in b minor, Op. 20, the concert finished, if not literally on a high note, then figuratively so. Again, never losing the thread that builds words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and chapters, Perahia plumbed these works’ emotional depths. With the scherzo’s wild accents and cold fear triumphing, it was good to have the Brahms and Schubert encores to sing us out into the night.