A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Pianist Murray Perahia / Photo courtesy of LA Phil

On March 15, the famed American pianist Murray Perahia performed a concert of works by Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Franck and Chopin to an adoring audience at Disney Hall.

Perahia opened the program with the Bach French Suite No. 6 in E major, BWV 817. Perahia has a close connection with Bach. He rarely recorded works by Bach early in his career, but in the late 1990s he recorded the English Suites and then between 2000 and 2011 the Goldberg Variations, the Keyboard Concertos, Partitas and the French Suite No. 5. This burst of recordings of the music of Bach in the 2000s has a backstory, which is also relevant to his Disney Hall recital.

In 1990, Perahia suffered a hand injury, which, in 1992, forced him away from the keyboard for several years. During that hiatus, Perahia intensely studied the keyboard music of Bach. It was when he returned to playing in the late 1990s that he began his series of Bach recordings. However, since then, his hand problems have resurfaced on a number of occasions, forcing him to cancel performances.

Perahia’s performance on Sunday was not perfect, at least technically. There were many missed notes, and while it’s difficult to say, it’s possible that after more than a decade of recurring hand problems, Perahia might still be a little gun-shy. However, like other great pianists before him (e.g., Arthur Rubinstein), a performance with missed notes by Perahia is preferable to a perfect performance by some others. And while the missed notes occurred almost exclusively in the faster passages, Perahia’s legendary poetry at the keyboard really shone in the slower passages.

Perahia’s Bach is not that of Glenn Gould. Perahia brings his well-known lyricism to the music of Bach, giving us an almost romantic version, with dynamic variations certainly not scored by Bach. And his years of studying Bach’s keyboard music were more than evident in his very personal rendition of the French Suite.

Perahia played the Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, Hob. XVI:46, with Haydnesque flair, and, again, Perahia’s expressiveness was especially evident in the extended Adagio movement where he seemed to relish in Haydn’s extensive ornamentation.

Perahia concluded the first half with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a (“Les Adieux”). Although he may be sensitive about his recurring hand injury, it didn’t show in his exuberant performance. Missed notes or not, Perahia brought the forgiving audience to their feet as if it were the end of the recital.

The second half consisted of two works, the first of which was the massive Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Op. 21, by Franck. It was in this Romantic work that harkens back to Bach that Perahia’s romanticism really broke through. It was a stunning performance.

Perahia concluded with the Chopin Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20, where, once again, he pulled heartstrings in the lyrical middle section.

Although he barely smiled, even in the glow of the adulation from the audience, Perahia played two encores, the Chopin Nocturne Op. 15, No. 1, and then, as if to add an exclamation mark, an uncharacteristically lightly played version of the “Traumes Wirren” (“Dream’s Confusions”) from the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, by Schumann.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.