Murray Perahia in Singapore – Recital & masterclass

Murray Perahia was in Singapore for the Sun Festival. He performed in recital at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Friday 24th October, and then conducted a masterclass on Saturday 25th October.

The recital program:

  • Bach: Partita no. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
  • Mozart: Sonata in F major, K. 332
  • Beethoven Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata)
  • Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op.47
  • Chopin: Etudes (12), Op. 25 No. 5 in E minor, No. 1 in A flat major, No. 3 in F major
  • Chopin: Etudes (12),Op.10 No.12 “Revolutionary” in C minor
  • Chopin: Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
  • Schubert: Impromptu D.899 Op. 90, No. 4 in A flat major (encore 1)
  • Schubert: Impromptu D.899 Op. 90, No. 2 in E flat major (encore 2)
  • Chopin: Etude Op. 10, No. 4 in C sharp minor (encore 3)

I don’t profess to be knowledgeable or much of a music critic, so I will just note what struck me the most.

First and foremost, never again sit in the front stalls at the Esplanade Concert Hall. The acoustic there is bad. I was in row F, below the level of the stage, and there was not enough direct sound from the piano. Better seats would be further back or in the circle.

I don’t know much Bach, but I have listened quite a bit to Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations, especially the later recording. Although GG was (by all accounts) idiosyncratic about the way he approached Bach, I personally enjoy his incredible articulation of polyphonic lines and his detached touch. GG’s piano is also highly modified — it sometimes sounds like a harpsichord with a big sound board. I’ve also learned to ignore GG’s sometimes loud humming. (Frankly, I think GG sold his soul to the Devil for the enormous technique that he puts to such good use.)

MP is most definitely not of the GG Bach school. He uses the modern piano to give a different look at Bach. Often, harmonic tension is amplified by the use of the damper pedal. There is also more rubato than one might expect with Bach. And of course, a more legato touch than GG. I enjoyed it very much. It is clear why MP is such a respected interpreter of Bach (and Handel).

The Mozart I have no opinion on.

The Beethoven Op. 57 sonata I had a problem with. I thought the tempi of all three movements were too fast and too ‘straight’. As a result there was a loss of articulation, tension and fire that would have served the piece well. The second movement in particular was so fast that there was not enough time to let the harmonic sonorities build. At a slower tempo this movement can, in the right hands, become a near-religious experience. Slower tempi give the pianist more scope in which to draw out the driving passion and pathos in the music.

MP’s Chopin was fine, if a little bland. He plays with somewhat less rubato than one typically hears, which I don’t think that it is bad thing compared to some of the really schmaltzy taffy pulling one hears from many younger ‘Chopin specialists’. My all-time preferred Chopin interpreter would have to be Artur Rubinstein. Go get his 1959 set of the Chopin ballades, re-issued on CD. The re-mastering is phenomenal, and the playing is incredible.

Of the three encores the ones that I found best were the two Schubert Impromptus. Very satisfying.

The masterclass was interesting in several respects.

Of the three pianists, two played orchestral reductions for each other. They were students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatorium but I can’t remember their names – misplaced the programme. The first pianist tackled the first movement (Allegro maestoso) of Chopin’s first piano concerto in E minor, Op. 11. The second pianist played the second movement (Larghetto) of Chopin’s second piano concerto in F minor, Op. 21. MP sat about 3 metres behind them with the music on a music stand.

I was kind of mystified why, with such a vast piano repertoire available, these two guys picked concertos. Maybe they were preparing for exams? MP gave some very helpful insights about phrasing, articulation, technique, and interpretation.

The third pianist was Abigail Sin, a 15 year-old Singaporean child prodigy. She attempted the first movement (Moderato cantabile, molto expressivo) of Beethoven’s Op. 110 sonata. MP made the point that in order to interprete Beethoven piano sonatas, especially his late ones, one has to be informed about Beethoven the man, his history, circmstances and his mind. Beethoven drew on a vast array of inputs for his musical inspiration and thematic material.

Fortunately for the aspiring Beethoven player the material is not difficult to find. In fact, all the hard research work has been done, so that you can take shortcuts to getting inside Beethoven’s mind enough so that you can play the notes and the music. One must also take advantage of the easy access to recorded music and listen to great Beethoven interpreters, and there is no other better than Claudio Arrau.


4 responses

  1. nice run through Digitus 🙂 was beginning to think that work had dragged you away for too long from your piano and blog.

    Am still without a piano here so am having to satisfy myself with youtube, recordings and drumming my fingers on tabletops…am going to add some further Beethoven background reading to that list though so I am ready to recommence the two easier sonatas I am able to work on currently 🙂

    Trust you are still loving your omega?

  2. Genaa,

    I haven’t posted for a while partly because of business travel, and partly because I was spending way too much time posting!

    Your M122 is due sometime this month isn’t it? Or is it next month?

    About background reading for playing the Beethoven piano sonatas, take a look at the resources I list under the “Beethoven” tab. The books by Brendel and Arrau (under the “Artistes” tab) also contain additional insight into how those two great pianists approach Beethoven’s piano music.

    Yes the Omega is settling in nicely. I tune it myself once every couple of weeks or so, trying different temperaments. I’m going to stick with EBVT for a while.

    A few weeks ago I played again on the Fazioli F183 when I happened to be in the dealer’s showroom, and I am now certain I made the right choice (cost not withstanding).

  3. M130 🙂 hopefully arrives in UK week beginning 10th November – I goto Leeds to see it at the end of that week and then hopefully delivered down to me the following week – so not long now. Not sure when the stool I have ordered will be finished however (John Austin, small concert in black).

    Will look at the Arrau and Brendel stuff – had hoped to get to one of Brendel’s farewell concerts this summer but work interfered and time flew by. Arrau is very well regarded for his Beethoven isn’t he? The Andras Schiff lectures on the Guardian website are also very insightful – not least the one on Op. 14 (Moonlight) – I feel that has helped my interpretation of first 2 movements at any rate – 3rd will be beyond me for a long time I suspect – but its still a fun way to practice arpeggio jumps 🙂

  4. Oops! Yes, M130 of course.

    Arrau is arguably one of the foremost Beethoven interpreters ever. I have six different Beethoven sonata cycles in my collection, and individual sonata recordings from the likes of Gieseking, Rubinstein, Solomon, Schiff, and Ashkenazy, and Horowitz. The Arrau cycle recorded by Philips in the 1960’s is the one that I listen to most of the time, followed by Brendel and Kempff.

    I mentioned in an earlier post that I also recently took delivery of the Edition Peters Beethoven sonata scores edited by Arrau. If you like what you hear in the Arrau recordings then you should play from the EP/Arrau scores. Apart from the dynamics and articulation markings, one of the most valuable things this set offers are Arrau’s fingering suggestions. They are generally better than the already good fingerings given in the Universal/Schenker edition. Some of the fingerings are highly counter-intuitive but must be tried nonetheless. I had just started working on the first movement of Op. 101 when I acquired the EP/Arrau edition. After having gotten the exposition ‘under my fingers’ with Schenker’s fingerings I recently started trying Arrau’s fingerings. They mostly work! So I am now in the process of re-visiting all the Beethoven sonatas (or rather, parts thereof) that I am working on to see where Arrau’s fingerings might help solve problems at some problem spots.

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