Perahia at Symphony Center Review-The virtuoso pianist delivers a hammering "Hammerklavier"



On May 7, 2017, as part of the Symphony Center Presents Piano series, much-decorated virtuoso pianist Murray Perahia, Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra, and a keyboardist renowned for his elegance and technical prowess, performed at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago. The first half of the program consisted of J.S.  Bach’s “French Suite No. 6 in E Major”, BWV 817, 1725, and Franz Schubert’s “Four Impromptus”, D. 935, 1827. The entire second half of the program comprised the performance of Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat Major”, Op. 106, known as “The Hammerklavier”.

Pianist Murray Perahia; photo by Felix Broede

After 43 years of recordings with Sony Classical and its predecessor, Columbia Masterworks, Perahia signed with Deutsche Gramaphon, with his first release in October, 2016, being “Bach’s French Suites”. The recordings- and the performance on Sunday at Symphony Center of No. 6- reveal an artist in total command of the instrument and the subject. The eloquence of the articulation, the clarity of the line is fully balanced by color and sonority. There is an impression of breathing space between the notes of this gem of the repertoire composed of dance movements of surpassing ornamental beauty.

Schubert’s “Four Impromptus”, published posthumously, have been described by some as a four-movement sonata in disguise, the first and last pieces in the set being in the same key. Perahia’s rendition demonstrated a depth of feeling and intensity coupled with a classical correctness of balance. Never maudlin or over-embellished, the music spoke for itself, professing a spectrum from childlike happiness to stern darkness. The interpretation was spare, careful and highly effective.

Murray Perahia, KBE; photo by Felix Broede

The momentous “Hammerklavier”, 45 minutes long, considered by many to be Beethoven’s most technically challenging piano composition, was played this afternoon with a polish and assurance that were a delight to the ears. It conveyed a majesty and triumph of intricate details. This was a probing and searching interpretation, filled with tension that explodes in the final fugue, but reached there by way of the great authority of the stunning slow movement. Perahia has more than enough poise and finger control combined with sheer technical knowhow to carry off the depth of insight and presence of this oh-so-difficult poetic masterpiece bathed in harmonic shifts and reaching melodies. This stellar pianist, cool and unflappable of mien, displayed an awesome intensity of concentration from the first incredibly fast left-hand jump. His fingers flying over the keys, summoning forth the many restless moods, brought the audience to it’s feet with an almost festive end. This was a wonderful achievement and a very special concert.

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