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Edifice Rex

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
03/31/2009 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 1 BWV 825
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata in F Major, K. 332
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 23, opus 57
Johannes Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, opus 24

Murray Perahia (piano)

Murray Perahia (© Watanabe/Sony Classical)

The major topic of conversation at Lincoln Center these days is not music at all but rather architecture. For their 50th anniversary, the institution is completely renovating the place. Having already altered Juilliard and transformed Alice Tully, they are now setting their sites on Avery Fisher itself. The Metropolitan Opera spends thousands of its donors’ dollars on tableaux that are three stories high trumpeting their new productions, but nobody can see them anymore because of the presence of temporary construction walls. The New York City Opera, a tragicomic association of bumblers, is lavishing millions on a reconstruction to the State Theater but not one penny for fixing the absolutely dreadful acoustics.

Architecture was clearly on the mind of local-boy-makes-good Murray Perahia as he gave his recital at Avery Fisher on Tuesday evening. There are more than a few very good pianists performing today, but Mr. Perahia is unique in that he always has something to say. I could not hear him jingle as he approached the piano, but it was apparent that he had hidden somewhere under his tuxedo the keys to unlock the essences of each piece on the program.

He began with Bach, a composer whom he transforms. It is an odd phenomenon of modern music making that Bach is performed on an instrument that he never could have imagined and Mr. Perahia is a master of this type of time travel. This is no nonsense playing, big in scope but never pounding and he established what would be a motif for this evening, a self-effacing and analytical approach that was long on scholarship if a bit dry in emotional content.

The F Major Sonata, K.332 can be a jaunty Mozartean experience but here it was deconstructed a bit to reveal a consummate cohesion. Mr. Perahia hardly ever intoned above a mezzopiano and presented this music in a lapidary manner, more geometrical than dramatic. I thought of that great book title “The World’s Most Beautiful Mathematical Formulas.”

The ”Appassionata” was not. Seldom have I heard such a revelatory and clean version but it was also a bit understated, reminding of the Pollini performances in the early 1990’s. Interesting pianism to say the least, a perfect treat for cognoscenti. But for those in the audience who were new to the work, quite a bit of élan vital was left in the piano bench with the score.

We all needed a break after such cerebrations, but after the intermission, Mr. Perahia dazzled with a superb Handel Variations. He had a sharply focused technique and an inflexible game plan. Each variation was presented at a brisk pace. There was only a half a beat interval between them. Even the last variation was delivered without the big flourish at the end, the fugue commencing just nanoseconds after its conclusion – at least eliminating the embarrassment of the crowd applauding before the counterpoint could begin.

But what Murray Perahia was doing that was so impressive was treating each variation in its own stylistic manner, foreshadowing the next variant by playing a few notes or some inner voice in the previous one with the fingering technique of its successor. These tantalizing previews served to cohere the piece like no other version that I have experienced. It was simply stunning erudition on display.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the economic downturn will not have a real effect on local concert attendance until next season (Carnegie Hall has already cancelled ten percent of its planned events for 2009-2010). But at this recital, the entire back of the hall was empty as were the sides on each of the upper levels. Since they are about to gut the place anyway, I can now reveal the secret taught to me by Mrs. Kurt Masur some years ago: because of some acoustical anomaly, the best sound is at these back seats. Sitting alone among a sea of vacant chairs, I could easily imagine that Murray Perahia was performing in my own living room. He was a welcome guest indeed.

Fred Kirshnit



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