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.