Murray Perahia, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Murray Perahia's annual Festival Hall solo recital on Wednesday was packed out. He doesn't exactly take risks with repertoire (why should he, you might ask) and his programme had three solid classics.

He began with Bach's Partita No 6 in E minor, launching the opening toccata with a sweeping line and strong, shining tone (he certainly knows how to project in this hall), ornamenting expansively, and making the fugal section very expressive and flowing.

In the allemande there was a lot of light and shade, so that his right hand almost seemed like a monopolising conversationalist, while the courante glided in streamlined legato. This is the sort of pianistic beauty that fellow pianists admire. The brief air was, by contrast, crisp. The sarabande was sumptuously relished, and, of all the movements, particularly effective in Perahia's sculptural treatment. The gavotte was taken rather steadily, before a very firmly-defined final gigue - less of a dance, in this work, than a feat of intellectual concentration.

From minor to major, and Beethoven's Op 109 Sonata. It is played far too often these days, but it has to be said that this was the sort of performance that makes you overlook the fact - very natural, direct and strong in the opening movement, the second movement driven with fiery urgency. When it came to the theme of the final variations, Perahia laboured the ornamental turn rather curiously, as if he were making a special point of it, and then loosened up still more in the first variation. Then why was that little five-note figure, high in the right hand during the fourth variation, highlighted so particularly?

But from the sturdy counterpoint of the fifth variation, through the accumulating trills and exercise-like figuration of the sixth, Perahia's energy and concentration were compelling.

Normally, Perahia is a very balanced musician, who does nothing controversial; so it was odd, again, to hear him inclined to stretch certain notes in the first movement of Schubert's C minor Sonata, D958 - he took his time bringing in the second subject, for instance, though the central development was businesslike rather than mined for poetic suggestion.

He invested far more passion in the climax of the slow movement than one ever expected, and, after an affable minuet, the finale had the momentum and excitement of a real adventure. Brahms's B minor Rhapsody - a repetitious piece enslaved by its own symmetry - was not the most welcome choice as first encore, although it was played with tremendous commitment. And then we had Chopin's C sharp minor Study, which was fiercely brilliant.

After the Schubert Sonata, these pieces seemed wrong and randomly chosen. Perhaps Perahia should have stayed with one of his staple encores of old and consoled us with a Schubert Impromptu.

Murray Perahia's recital will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later in the year