Classical: Slow down, you're going too fast

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The Independent Culture
MURRAY PERAHIA

ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL

MARTHA ARGERICH

BARBICAN

LONDON

IF ANY pianist has the reputation of the perfect player for Mozart, it's Murray Perahia. With his limpid tone, fleet fingers and tasteful sobriety, Perahia has set his own standards in Mozart's piano concertos. He plays in a less precious way than was often the case a few decades ago, yet he's conscious of a classical scale of values. Directing the Academy of St Martin in the Fields from the keyboard on Monday, he had to be very fleet indeed when he took the finale of the C major Concerto, K467, surprisingly fast. In the first movement, too, his agility almost dismissed Mozart's maestoso marking.

The piano, placed lidless with the keyboard facing the stalls, sounded much clearer than it usually does in the Royal Festival Hall, yet Perahia took no chances and projected firmly even in the middle movement, becoming quite forceful in the central section.

When pianists conduct and play, they often seem to become more assertive, and in Mozart's last Concerto, K595, Perahia took a robust and optimistic line, as if to defy Alfred Einstein's observation that this is music of resignation. Again, the finale was fast and positively carefree, with no suggestion of the hidden depths Sir Clifford Curzon - to name but one great pianist from the recent past - found here.

Still, due credit should go to the Academy for clean and spirited playing. In the central item - Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Confessore - they were conducted by Laszlo Heltay and joined by their own chorus and four soloists. The Vespers are an efficient rather than inspired setting of five psalms and the Magnificat, and ought to take the prize for Mozart's blandest soprano solo, "Laudate Dominum", which was suavely sung by Inger Dam-Jensen.

Lots of passion from Martha Argerich in Chopin's E minor Piano Concerto at the Barbican on Wednesday, 29 years after she took Warsaw by storm in this work. As fresh and spontaneous-sounding as ever, she poured forth torrents of tone like molten lava in the first movement, yet without any feeling of strain, and in the slow movement her delivery had an ardent energy that swept mere prettiness aside. Her manner, as usual, was modest, as if she were simply doing the job she knew best, and indeed, in this particular concerto there is none to touch her.

Emmanuel Krivine's conducting of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe seemed excessively fussy in Faure's Masques et bergamasques. Still, there was plenty of energy in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and a proud noise from relatively small numbers, including only four cellos and three basses.

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