Murray Perahia | Royal Festival Hall, London
Wednesday 29 March 2000
The story goes that Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations to beguile an insomniac, the Russian ambassador to the court of Saxony. Not to put him to sleep, however daunting 30 pieces based on a touching little minuet may seem. Bach ensured enough variety of character, from tender reflection to displays of athletic brilliance, to keep anyone alert. The Goldbergs are the summation of Bach's keyboard writing, and it would be a brave person who contested their claim to be the greatest of all keyboard variations.
Murray Perahia has been studying Bach for some time, particularly during his recent period away from the concert platform, when he was suffering from a mysterious thumb injury - now, thankfully, cured.) So it is taken for granted that he is thoroughly at home with Bach's style - or rather, the full range of his styles - and with the intricate niceties of ornamentation. His ornamentation on Monday was impeccable.
It is also expected that he, the most limpid-sounding of pianists, should achieve the necessary clarity of part-playing, though in a big space such as the Royal Festival Hall, his sometimes uninhibited contrasts of volume dazzled the ears. In Variation 11, his alternations of loud and soft seemed a little for the sake of it, and the fastest notes became a burble, albeit pleasing.
All but one of the variations are divided in half, each half to be repeated. But in some variations Perahia ignored the repeats. What is interesting is that, although every third variation is a canon, in which one melody copies itself at a fixed interval that grows wider in each successive canon, there is otherwise no overall plan to the work. There are points, though, when an audience feels the tension holds from one variation to the next, and times when listeners sense something like the end of a paragraph has been reached.
On Monday they felt that a brief pause was warranted, quite naturally, at the end of Variation 15, before the grand French Overture, which Perahia launched with a magnificent show of proud confidence. They were caught coughing, though, at the end of the expressively laden and emotionally exhausting Variation 25, when he slipped into the following number very softly, flitting through it like a shadow until he made a crescendo towards the end. It was so delicious that ignoring the repeats seemed like self-denial.
By way of warming up before the variations, he played four of Busoni's rather gruff and bass-heavy arrangements of Bach's chorale preludes, originally for organ. Anyone who remembers the chaste containment of Myra Hess or Dinu Lipatti may have wondered at Perahia's romantic relaxation in "Sleepers wake" and "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", while to my ears, "Nun freut euch" slithered by too fast, like a finger study. But then Perahia's fingers are pretty wonderful.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 4 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 5 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
This little boy loves books so much that he cries when his mother stops reading to him
Prog rock finally comes of age with launch of the first Official Progressive Chart
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up