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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Concert Review: Have Piano, Will Travel

Murray Perahia in recital at Fisher Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hometown hero: the pianist Murray Perahia. Photo provided by Sony Classical.
A recital in New York by Murray Perahia is always a major event. The pianist's preference for traditional repertory makes him a favorite among more conservative music lovers, and his Bronx birth makes him a hometown hero. In a city clobbered by Hurricane Sandy, that kind of heroism is what was needed as patrons gathered for a concert that was supposed to happen three nights before.

You see, this Sunday night recital was originally scheduled for Friday night at Carnegie Hall. This change was necessitated by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left enormous, damaged construction crane dangling over W. 57th St. across the street from that historic venue, shutting down the venue, its attendant subway stops and all the local businesses for a two block radius.

The program selected by Mr. Perahia for this recital may have had therapeutic qualities for his traumatized audience. It opened with the solemn, sylvan dances of Haydn's D Major Sonata, which went through a series of stormy passages before emerging in an optimistic conclusion. Mr. Perahia displayed a lightness of touch, making a coherent argument that this composer's superb, underrated piano music needs to be heard more frequently.

Schubert's Moments musicaux allowed the artist to explore different sides of this composer, drawing fearsome power in the fifth piece with its repeated ostinato and quiet lyricism in the final movement. In this performance, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata transcended its familiar place in the repertory to become song of lament for the injured New York. Its final movement showing a steely determination from both composer and soloist.

The rarity on this bill was Schumann's Faschingschwank aus Wien, a composition that playfully incorporates fairground elements into a series of riotous dance movements. Schumann even included the odd political statement (including "La Marsellaise" as a tweak of 19th century censors) amid the playful pictorials in a work that is more entertaining than profound. Mr. Perahia made his robust harmonies sound as revolutonary as they did in the 19th century, playing with great energy and drive.

The program ended with two Chopin works. The F# Major Impromptu is deceptive, a set of muttered opening chords from which the gentle melody flowed forth. It contrasted with the stormy Scherzo No. 1. The latter ranks among Chopin's most robust, violent creations, a torrent of musical ideas that has surprises for those who conceive of this composer as a creator of salon works. Mr. Perahia achieved greatness in this last piece, playing with a sense of urgency in the tumultuous final bars.

Mr. Perahia returned for two encores. Schubert's Impromptu No. 4 features repeated cascades of notes for the right hand, answered back by a rich, compassionate theme--the type which makes this composer so beloved. Chopin's fourth Nocturne was more meditative. The audience, the piano and the concert may have been displaced, but in these soft, descending bars, there was peace and healing from this great artist.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats