The ultimate Murray Perahia recital


In any great concert hall on the planet, this singular program with pianist Murray Perahia would be astonishing. At the height of his powers and maturity, he is one of our greatest living pianists. Perahia will perform Thursday evening at the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge, described by architecture critic Michael Webb as “a space that delights the eye and the ear, while serving performers and audience in equal measure.” How will this experience compare with those across town at the world-renowned Disney Concert Hall? Los Angeles reveals fresh cultural riches at every turn in the freeway.

The important question on this night will be: among these masterworks that range from majestic to intimate, which will be the most beautiful? Which will rend the heart most deeply, leaving an imprint on the memory that will last the rest of one’s life? Will it be the musical Mt. Everest of Beethoven’s Opus 57 Sonata, “Appassionata”? …(Will I tell my grandchildren that I heard Murray Perahia play the “Appassionata,” back in 2014?)

Or will it be the splendor of Chopin’s gemlike Nocturne Op. 62, No. 1, where the glittering flash of an arpeggio leaps out of quiet, aqueous darkness? Perahia’s rock-solid performance of Chopin achieves a rare transparency, unyielding in both its depth of emotion and its technical perfection.  He will also play the haunting and unforgettable Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, that alternates bold percussive statements with probing, quizzical phrases that melt into Chopin’s signature melodic lyricism. His recording of the Chopin Etudes that he will also perform won a Grammy Award in 2003.

As a student at Mannes College of Music, Perahia studied with Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals at the Marlboro Festival, and then assisted Serkin at the Curtis Institute. In 1972, he became the first American to win the Leeds Piano Competition. He then worked with composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, and with fellow pianist Radu Lupu, at the Aldeburgh Festival, where he became co-artistic director in 1981. He was invited to work with the legendary Vladimir Horowitz, who became a pivotal mentor.

Sidelined by a hand injury in the 1990s, he found solace through studying the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. After recovering, he produced a series of award-winning recordings of Bach’s keyboard works. His rendition of the Goldberg Variations is one of the touchstone recordings. He has often performed chamber music with the Guarneri and Budapest Quartets, and is Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Sony Classical has issued a special boxed set edition of his recordings, entitled “The First 40 Years.” He is currently editing a new Urtext edition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

Notwithstanding the greatness of the Beethoven and Chopin, the highlight of this performance may actually be one of the two dance suites, the Bach or the Schumann. They are hundreds of years apart, in both style and substance. But they are fascinating to compare. The Bach is pure, emotionally bright and piercing, dancing and full of baroque delight. The romantic Schumann, lyrically alluring but complex and challenging, is much more approachable than the towering Schumann Carnaval or Davidsbündlertänze. But the suite Papillons Op. 2, which Perahia recorded in 1977, has echoes and premonitions of those monumentally complex later works. Schumann weaves his philosophical and literary material through all of these pieces, at a level just below the surface. Each of these dance suites is a masterwork of its kind, a miniature that opens a window into the grandeur of its composer’s musical cosmos.

While other concerts might be more hip or contemporary, little in Los Angeles this season has the same potential to achieve the sublime. Which of these pieces will rend the heart most deeply? What a spectacular conundrum to face, at the Valley Performing Arts Center, this Thursday night.

Thomas Aujero Small writes on music and architecture from Los Angeles.

Murray Perahia, piano

Bach French Suite No. 4
Beethoven Sonata No. 23, Op. 57 “Appassionata”
Schumann Papillons Op. 2
Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 1

– Etude Op. 25, No. 1
– Etude Op. 25, No. 5
– Etude Op. 25, No. 4
– Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31

Thomas Aujero Small writes on music and architecture from Los Angeles.

Murray Perahia in concert | Valley Performing Arts Center | Feb 27

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