Thursday, October 13, 2016

Murray Perahia Piano Recital in Taipei on 2016/10/13

Time: 2016/10/13 (Thursday), 19:30-21:30 (approximately)
Venue: National Concert Hall, Taipei
Performers: Murray Perahia (piano)



Random observations and thoughts:

Born in New York (Bronx) in 1947 to a Jewish family, Murray Perahia started playing piano at the age of four and later attended Mannes School of Music where he majored in conducting and composition. In 1972, he was the first North American to win first prize at the Leeds Piano Competition, whose prize winners included Radu Lupu (first place) in 1969 and András Schiff (third place) in 1975. (Leeds is held every three years.)

Perahia's performance has grown in seriousness (some would say severity) in style over the years. There is plenty of lucidity and order, poetry and precision, but the word "seduction" (in the sense of Vladimir Horiwitz) is nowhere to be found. The "severity" was not apparent when he released the complete Mozart piano concerts over the thirteen-year period between 1975 and 1988 to the universal acclaim. (This collection, I think, contains some of the best Mozart performances ever recorded.) At that time, his youthful spontaneity and exuberance were palpable, even though his trademark of poetic lucidity were already there. As Perahia grows in age and maturity, so is his style in seriousness. Some commentators dislike his "intellectualism" and "lack of emotion", calling him unexcited and unexciting. For me, Perahia's polish and poetic playing is so wonderful that I can often overlook any interpretative difference. His interpretation is always well thought out, with strong yet flexible structure. Even his worst critics have to agree that his performance is admirable, if not particularly "thrilling" or convincing. This trait was most apparent in two recitals in the past few years I heard from him.

The recital opened with two minor key pieces from Haydn and Mozart, followed by Brahms's late, "autumnal", pieces with altering minor and major keys. These short pieces put the second half's monumental Hammerklaiver in the historical perspective. As expected, Perahia played them with his usual sensitivity and touch. 

This recital's highlight, for me, was Beethoven's Hammerklavier, whose daunting technical demand was well documented. What is equally important about this piece is its revolutionary nature, which was noted but not particularly emphasized in Perahia's analysis. The first movement opens with the sonata form, where the metronome mark is the notoriously impossible half note at 138 ( = 138)! Decades ago, most scholars and pianists seemed to agree that the metronome mark was a mistake, caused either by Beethoven's possibly faulty metronome or deafness. More recently, however, pianists have taken his mark seriously and many have recorded and performed the piece at the written tempo, cf. András Schiff's wonderful lecture. Perahia's approach was sort of middle-of-the-road, leaning towards half note at 130, but did not race his way through. Unfortunately, one too many inarticulate note proved a bit distracting.

If the "hybrid approach" to the first movement was not an unmitigated success, Perahia was back in full command in the second movement with a crisp and sparkling Scherzo. The Adagio Sostenuto was perhaps the greatest slow movement ever written and Perahia was especially inspired here, mesmerizing and searching in turns. He took the audience by storm with the final movement's breathtaking fugue (with persistent trills). Forget about his critics, this audience was thrilled! 

At the end of the concert, Perahia, now 69, looked visibly exhausted. He returned to the stage several times to the thundering applauses, but understandably gave no encore. 

Note 1. Perahia performed this same program in Carnegie Hall six months ago, and has toured the world with it. 

Note 2. Perhaps due to the fact that this concert was partially sponsored by the Lawrence S. Ting Memorial Fund, a significant number of the audience members might have gotten their tickets through connections with the Ting foundation. Unfortunately, that made more-than-average sleepers and talkers during the recital. In particular, a couple sitting not far from me were the worst talkers-in-concert ever! (At one point, I almost threw a pen at their faces.) I wish MNA, "Bull's Ear Arts", which managed this program, can in the future put aside the bottom-line consideration for rare occasions such as this and release tickets to the true music lovers. (This concert was sold-out weeks before the event, but there were some vacant seats in the hall).

There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now; 
And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
       Walt Whitman by Walt Whitman

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