Bach Goldberg Variations and Bach/Busoni Four chorale preludes. Murray Perahia (piano) Royal Festival Hall, 27 March 2000
A sell-out audience greeted Murray Perahia in the first of his three Bach concerts at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 27 March. Four Chorale Preludes (arr. Busoni) preceded the monumental Goldberg Variations, their performances marked by clarity, intelligence and control.
Stretching Bach over the dynamics and colours of the modern piano, Busoni's arrangements complemented Perahia's interpretative skill to represent an ensemble rather than a single instrument, although sometimes his contrasts felt a little too strong. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme made for a quiet, captivating opening which set a magical scene for the bell-like chorale melody to ring out over. The virtuosic Nun freut euch, lieben Christen posed virtuosic challenges to which Perahia had to rise, but his near-perfect coherence greatly impressed. The dark and solemn Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ benefited from Perahia's by now familiar poise and elegance. (The informative programme notes would have been more helpful if they had followed the sequence of performance!)
With restraint and modesty Perahia unfolded the Aria of the Goldberg Variations. He characterised each variation, meeting technical demands with precision, agility and almost cocky ease. Perahia took care to incorporate embellishments into all voices of canonic structures and demonstrated great contrapuntal and harmonic understanding. The minor-key no 15 lived up to expectation, its ebbing piano lines plumbing new depths of melancholy before the grand entrance of no 16. No 11's quasi-Debussian use of pedal and rubato was, however, arguably a little too much. Beginning the home straight from Var. 24, Perahia began omitting repeats to quicken the pace and built up anticipation until the beautifully unrefined Quodlibet. Great tension awaited the return of the Aria, yet its tones returned unassuming rather than heart-stopping. Still, Perahia's exhausting and exciting performance prompted an extremely enthusiastic response from the audience, who called for more.
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