I’ve long been a great admirer of Murray Perahia, whose fastidious
and tasteful approach to music-making is much to my taste. Just
as much to my taste is the use of the piano for Bach’s keyboard
music and over the last few years I’ve bought and derived great
pleasure from several of Perahia’s previous Bach recordings,
including English Suites 1, 3, 6 (1997, on SK60276); English
Suites 2, 4, 5 (1998, on SK60277) and his 2000 traversal of
the Goldberg Variations (SK89243) All these recordings were
made in the same venue in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland but
a new location has been used for this present recording.
It was only after
completing my listening that I discovered the magisterial
by Christopher Howells of five different versions of the Goldberg
Variations and I noted that he appreciated the “rhythmic life”
of Perahia’s traversal of the variations. As we’ll see, rhythmic
vitality is a strong feature of this new recording also.
Often I don’t
pay much attention to the covers of CDs but on this occasion
I did. The cover carries a head and shoulders picture of Murray
Perahia. He’s immaculately turned out in a dark blue suit,
a pale blue shirt and a red tie with a discreet pattern. It’s
said that you can tell a lot about a person by their appearance
and in this case it may well be true. Perahia, as pictured,
comes across as stylish, smart, neat and tasteful. I imagine
he took some trouble over his appearance for the photograph
but the effect looks effortless. All this is true of his pianism
on this disc.
His accounts of
all three Partitas strike me as being completely successful.
In Number Two he imparts just the right amount of rhetoric
into the grand opening of the Sinfonia and the two-part fugue
that follows unfolds easily – the listener’s ear is led on
very naturally. He shapes the Allemande very well, playing
with relaxed clarity, and his account of the Sarabande has
limpid grace. The concluding Capriccio, which anticipates
the material of the first movement of the Italian Concerto,
has irresistible momentum thanks to Perahia’s immaculate fingerwork.
In the Third Partita
the Allemande is poised and I much admired Perahia’s subtle
use of rubato and his delicate shading, all of which invests
Bach’s music with great interest. There’s crystal clarity
in the Courante while the Sarabande that follows is calm and
measured. Perahia makes the Burlesca rhythmically vital, accenting
the music strongly. Annotator Julian Haylock refers to the
“fugal inexorability” of the concluding Gigue and Perahia
delivers a lithe, sparkling account of this movement.
Fourth Partita is the grandest of
this trio. The extended Ouverture
is florid and stately at the start.
Perahia gives full value to its rhetorical
flourishes yet maintains forward momentum.
The 9/8 allegro is beautifully light
on its feet and here, as elsewhere
on the disc, Perahia clarifies the
part writing effortlessly. The Allemande
that follows is an even longer movement
(9:20 in this performance). Perahia
spins the melodic line eloquently
and graciously in the right hand while
the left hand bass line is perfectly
balanced. Then one is ready for the
leaping energy of the Courante and
Perahia doesn’t disappoint. He achieves
repose in the Sarabande - yet again
I’ve written the word “grace” in my
listening notes – and everything is
perfectly proportioned. The dexterity
and drive that he brings to the final
Gigue brings the Partita to an exhilarating
I found this disc
an envigorating experience from start to finish and I hope
Perahia will soon record the remaining three Partitas. Julian
Haylock reminds us that Bach described the Partitas as “galanteries
composed for music lovers to delight their spirits.” Well,
in this hugely enjoyable and immaculately executed recital
Murray Perahia does indeed delight our spirits. The engineers
have captured his playing in very truthful, pleasing sound.
This is a Bach recital to savour.