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Murray Perahia plays Schubert and Brahms
Murray Perahia (piano)
Radu Lupu, Sir George Solti (piano)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Amadeus String Quartet
rec. 1980-2010
SONY 194397883527 [8 CDs: 519:10]

This reissue offers the listener a cornucopia of fine classic recordings, not all for solo piano. My main interest lies in the five Schubert discs, as I have always thought that Murray Perahia has a special affinity with that composer. I did not know much of his Brahms, but these recordings show an equally incisive mind at work.

The first four Schubert discs offers the usual fare of the three ‘great’ piano sonatas, the C minor D. 958, two recordings of the A Major D. 959 (1987 and 2002) and the B flat Major D. 960. Coupled with these, are the astonishing, award-winning performance of the Fantasie in F minor for piano duet D. 940 with Radu Lupu - a constant in my collection for many a year - and the Impromptus D. 899 and D. 935. While the two versions of the A Major Sonata both offer the listener a stunning recording and reading, the main difference between them comes in the first movement, where, in the later recording, Perahia luxuriates, adding nearly four minutes to the timing; the remaining three movements are much of a muchness, with only a second or two difference between them. My own preference depends on how I feel on the day, as both are excellent, although the sound on the later recording is marginally better. I recently gave away my recording of the Impromptus, so I am pleased to have it back in my collection, especially as the winning combination of Perahia’s sheer musicianship and deft touch makes this one of my preferred versions.

The fifth Schubert disc, the 1990 recording of Winterreise D911 with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, is new to me. I already have a couple of versions of the great German baritone singing Winterreise - the classic with Gerald Moore and a DVD with Alfred Brendel - so I have never seen the point in investing in another version by this singer, and have instead explored versions by other vocalists. However, this recording offers a warm and generous performance, Fischer-Dieskau being captured in his late bloom and Perahia proving to be an excellent partner in this work with his incisive playing.

As with the Schubert, the three Brahms discs offer some unusual works. The meat of the first recital is the Piano Sonata No. 3 with a couple of rhapsodies in B minor and F flat Major, the Capriccio in B minor and the Intermezzo in E flat minor thrown in for good measure. I must say that Perahia’s Brahms has hitherto largely passed me by, but Perahia’s interpretations display a great understanding of this music. This is especially true in the second disc, where he gives an electrifying performance of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24. This is the award-winning recording from 2010 and comes with equally good versions of the two Rhapsodies Op. 79, the six Klavierstücke Op. 118 and the four Klavierstücke Op. 119. It is clear why it won the instrumental category in the 2011 Gramophone Awards.

The final disc offers an oddity in the St. Anthony Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b in the version for two pianos, taken from the 1988 Grammy-winning disc and contrasting strongly with Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion, where Perahia is partnered by Sir George Solti (0100012224075). Concluding the Brahms and the set as a whole is the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor Op. 25, where Perahia is joined by members of the Amadeus Quartet. The warmth of this 1987 recording certainly emphasises the late Romantic nature of the music, but it now sounds a little dated in approach, as we have become accustomed to the leaner sound of modern recordings which hark back to original performing practices, whereas this takes a more ‘traditional’ approach, glorifying in the smooth sound of the strings of the Amadeus Quartet. Nonetheless, this is still worthy of inclusion.

All in all, this is a most welcome set which exemplifies Murray Perahia as an interpreter of Schubert and Brahms, not just in the instrumental music but also as an incisive Lieder accompanist, and his credentials as a chamber performer, be it in music for two pianos or in the quartet, are further enhanced. The performances are all captured in first rate sound and even when it is a little dated, the end result is still enjoyable. The only thing letting this set down is that, as with all the latest “Masters” series, it contains no notes or texts. I have many booklets containing the words and translations for Winterreise, but it would have been nice to have those and some notes on the music, especially as Sony already have the original booklets on file, so it wouldn’t have cost a lot to reproduce them in an edited format for this series, even if only in download form. Nonetheless, this remains a wonderful set, which no Perahia fan will want to be without.

Stuart Sillitoe

Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Disc 1
Piano Sonata No. 19 in C minor, D958 [31:31]
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D959 [43:35] (rec. 2002)
Disc 2
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960 [40:18]
Disc 3
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D959 [39:40] (rec. 1987)
Fantasie in F minor for piano duet, D940 [11:29]
Disc 4
4 Impromptus, D899 [28:27]
4 Impromptus, D935 [33:58]
Disc 5
Winterreise D911 [71:22]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Disc 6
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5 [31:48]
4 Klavierstücke, Op. 119: No. 4 in E-Flat Major, Rhapsody. Allegro risoluto [12:12]
8 Klavierstücke, Op. 76: No. 2 in B Minor, Capriccio. Allegretto non troppo [4:47]
Intermezzo in E flat minor, Op. 118 No. 6 [3:32]
2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79: No. 1 in B Minor, Agitato [7:28]
Disc 7
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 [25:58]
2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79 [15:16]
6 Klavierstücke, Op. 118 [22:09]
4 Klavierstücke, Op. 119 [14:49]
Disc 8
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b "St. Anthony Variations" [19:51]
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 [40:04]

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