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S & H Recital Review

Ravel, Schubert Alfredo Perl (piano) Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, September 29th, 2003 (CC).


Alfredo Perl’s central Arte Nova recording is a complete Beethoven sonata cycle. Telling that there should be an account of the Liszt Transcendental Studies there, too. Technical matters obviously hold few fears for this gentleman.

For this Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, we were given a chance to hear Perl in the subtle colours of Ravel and the very different interpretative challenges of late Schubert. Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) showed many of the pianist’s strengths. A good, rounded forte and a loving handling of the dissonances of the first of the Valses boded well. This was not feminine, kid-gloves Ravel and this concept contrasted well with the egg-shell delicacy that surfaced later. It was when Ravel was wearing his quixotic hat that Perl seemed most at home, and the seeming oblique references to Debussy’s contemporary ‘Cathédrale engloutie’ in the Epilogue (lent) were effective. But (and it is an important but) intimacy was in short supply, a trait particularly evident in the second Valse (and, as we shall see below, completely absent in the Schubert).

Another D959 in the Lunchtime Series at the Wigmore, so soon after Imogen Cooper, raised this reviewer’s eyebrow, at least. Where Cooper was a tender, sensitive guide, Perl acted as a timely reminder of just how difficult the late Schubert Sonatas are to play convincingly. Perl’s opening was broad and rich of tone, but ensuing contrasts were few (the charge of ‘monochrome’ should not be applied to Schubert). Structurally, the movement emerged as a disjunct entity; emotionally, it emerged as flaccid. There was little or no impression of Schubert’s Olympian mastery. Surface activity became all, with disastrous results. To add insult to injury, pedalling was slack and ill-considered, with much smudging of passage-work. When Perl attempted large, quasi-organ sonorities, whilst one could hear what he was aiming for, he failed. The fantasia-like arpeggiations of the coda lost all sense of magic.

The Andantino (so unforgettable in Cooper’s hands) suffered immediately from a right hand melody that was not only over-projected, but positively lumpy, precluding any entrance into Schubert’s inner play. The closest Perl came to any semblance of convincing Schubertian realisation occurred in the Scherzo, but lumpiness reared its head again in the finale. Possible moments of magic sped by, counting for nothing; the climax was laboured.

I have no idea if Mr Perl played an encore.

Colin Clarke

 

 


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