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