Murray Perahia - Barbican, 5 February 2009
Encores: Schubert Impromptus in A flat major and E flat major
Every Murray Perahia recital I've planned to attend in recent years has been cancelled due to his recurring hand problems. So it was a relief to finally hear him, in what sounded like perfect digital health.
Perahia's technique is built on the foundation of his powerful fingers, which enable ultra-precise articulation, a firm and even placement of every single note. No skipped semiquavers, no smudged runs, and no crafty crime-concealing pedalling required. If the injury or the passing years have diminished his immaculate technique in any way, then it escaped my ears. He remains one of the most outstandingly flawless technicians around.
This served him well in his Bach and Mozart. Neither could really be called searching interpretations, but Perahia's touch was light and precise, and the freshly-laundered charm went a long way.
He came to grief in the Appassionata. There are a million different ways to play this, but they all demand a certain improvisatory quality and, at times, the sense that the pianist is performing at his very limits. Perahia played it like Fred Astaire would have danced it, slipping over the keys with the greatest of ease. It wasn't terrible, it just --- wasn't right.
On to Brahms' inventive Handel Variations, and once more Perahia's superlative technical command could shine. The twenty-five variations and fugue are based on just eight bars of original music. The relentlessly formal AABB structure of each variation could easily pale, but Perahia subtly shaded each repeat as well as each variation, connecting them gracefully with the tiniest pause and seamless shifting of tempo and dynamic. Perahia seemed to find delight in the dancing rhythms and physical sparkle of the writing, and his playing came alive.
Called back for two encores (and the packed audience wanted even more) Perahia abandoned himself in a couple of Schubert's Impromptus, for once sounding as fresh-minted as their title suggests.