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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Murray Perahia - Songs without Words


Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach; Ferruccio Busoni; Felix Mendelssohn; Franz Schubert; Franz Liszt
  1. Bach-Busoni - "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", BWV 645
  2. Bach-Busoni - "Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland", BWV 659
  3. Bach-Busoni - "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen", BWV 734
  4. Bach-Busoni - "Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ", BWV 639
  5. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 19 No. 3
  6. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 67 No. 2
  7. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 30 No. 4
  8. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 19 No. 1
  9. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 19 No. 5
  10. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 30 No. 6
  11. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 38 No. 3
  12. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 102 No. 5
  13. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 38 No. 2
  14. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 30 No. 2
  15. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 67 No. 1
  16. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 38 No. 6
  17. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 67 No. 4
  18. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 53 No. 4
  19. Mendelssohn - Lied ohne Worte Op. 62 No. 2
  20. Schubert-Liszt - "Auf dem Wasser zu singen"
  21. Schubert-Liszt - "In der Ferne"
  22. Schubert-Liszt - "Ständchen"
  23. Schubert-Liszt - "Erlkönig"

Murray Perahia, piano
Date: 1999
Label: Sony Classical



A collection of sheer poetry which calls on all the qualities Perahia has, literally, at his fingertips

This is the kind of record I have been hoping Murray Perahia would make for some time, one that plays to so many of his strengths. These pieces demand above all the ability to project and sustain a singing line, to mould and shape a beautiful and nuanced sound, and to evoke the atmosphere of each poetic inspiration. In short, they demand a pianist of Perahia's sensibility and temperament.

The Bach/Busoni Chorale Preludes are played with entirely natural tempos, not as funereal as Nikolai Demidenko, but never allowing the accompaniments, however florid, to sound rushed or agitated. The chorales sing with the most beautiful and luminous tone, and with a wonderfully sustained line. The slower Preludes (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland and Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ) substitute Demidenko's laden and slightly forced intensity for a more poised lyricism, and the hugely demanding Nun freut euch, lieben Christen is articulated with marvellous fleetness and clarity, even if it doesn't quite have Demidenko's dazzling power.

In the Mendelssohn selection, Perahia is adept at differentiating melodic strands and the accompanimental figuration, whether in the tricky combination of legato and staccato in Op 67 No 2, or the ardent poetry of Op 19 No 1, Op 38 No 3 or Op 67 No 1. He is concerned always to maintain a sense of momentum, never wallowing in the slower pieces, and his fingerwork and characterisation in the notorious 'Spinnerlied', Op 67 No 4, are superbly acute. He also brings a smile with the occasional witty throwaway ending.

Of all these riches, however, I was most interested in the Schubert/Liszt song transcriptions. Perahia, a natural Schubertian and a pianist of lyrical purity and warmth, strikes me as an obvious candidate for these wonderful arrangements, and the results are always engaging, but slightly uneven.

Auf dem Wasser zu singen is taken faster than usual - in itself no bad thing - but the meticulously phrased accompaniment becomes slightly agitated and detracts from the vein of lyricism. Some sections of Erlkonig sound under palpable technical strain, particularly when the music moves to B flat for the difficult left-hand triplets; moreover, the final two chords strike me as diluted of their sense of despair. Some listeners may feel In der Ferne to lack brooding intensity or a Schubertian sense of romantic alienation, but Perahia prefers the more comforting virtues of pianistic beauty and colour. Standchen, too, is utterly beautiful and full of character, although it is hard to forget Horowitz's exquisitely teasing account in comparison.

R Larry Todd's notes are an erudite and informative bonus, while the recordings, made in two locations (apparently over eight days), vary from a wonderful bloom for the Bach/Busoni to a slightly harder and more brittle image for the Mendelssohn. The sheer poetry of this disc is something to rejoice in, and Perahia's artistry shines through every bar.

-- Tim Parry, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****


Murray Perahia (born April 19, 1947 in New York) is an American concert pianist and conductor. From 1973 - 2010, Perahia recorded exclusively for Columbia Masterworks, now Sony Classical. In 2016, Perahia signed with Deutsche Grammophon. Besides his solo career, he is active in chamber music and appeared regularly with the Guarneri and Budapest String Quartets. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, with which he records and performs. He is loved for his warm, gentle, smooth and lyrical qualities of playing.


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