Murray Perahia plays BACH Keyboard Concertos – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/ Murray Perahia, piano and conductor – Sony (3 CDs)

by | Aug 16, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Murray Perahia plays BACH Concertos = Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor. BWV 1052; Piano Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1053; Piano Concerto No. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055; Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054; Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056; Piano Concerto No. 6 in F Major, BWV 1057; Piano Concerto No. 7 in G Minor, BWV 1058; Concerto in A Minor for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1044; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050; “Italian” Concerto in F Major, BWV 971 – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Murray Perahia, piano and conductor – Sony 82429 2 (3 CDs) 53:05; 55:13; 55:18 ****:
Pianist and conductor Murray Perahia (b. 1947) maintains a devotional attitude in his Bach readings, given his appreciation of his oeuvre as “complete works of art permeated by a spiritual will,” to paraphrase Rudolf Otto. The keyboard concertos derive from Bach’s Leipzig tenure at St. Thomas’ Church; and despite some dark colors and contours–especially in the D Minor Concerto–exhibit an élan and boisterous energy that lift the ennobled figures to healthy, exuberant expressions of cosmic joy.  Much in the tradition of the late Edwin Fischer, Perahia leads the Academy of St. Martin from the keyboard, often negotiating tricky entries and layered counterpoint with deft aplomb.
The D Minor Concerto (rec. 14 May 2000) reveals any number of Italian mannerisms, likely traceable to Vivaldi. Perahia takes the opening Allegro at an aggressive pace, though not so manic as we find Glenn Gould adapted in Amsterdam with Mitropoulos in 1958. The chaconne-like Adagio has the sparest of openings, but it evolves into a chromatically rich tapestry of meditative power. Elegant runs, suavely added grace notes, and deftly graduated dynamics mark the final Allegro, carried off in a manner thoroughly gracious and reminiscent of the style of Perahia’s grand master teacher, Mieczyslaw Horszowski. The E Major Concerto (rec. 15 May 2000) conveys an easy amiability of style, the piece itself adumbrating the division of the hands according to the orchestral tissue that we find in Mozart. Perahia’s keyboard part weaves in and out of the instrumental fabric in a dialogue whose color facility might well refer to a violin concerto or an operatic aria. The sweet Siciliano makes us think that Bach like Beethoven envisioned mountain brooks or natural idylls as a source of meditative inspiration. The final Allegro offers Perahia an acrobatic romp whose thin string and bass textures allow the keyboard part to shine in pearly virtuosic display. The A Major Concerto, BWV 1055 (rec. 16 May 2000) may have derived from a concerto for oboe d’amore. The opening Allegro figures frolic in a manner we know from various Bach cantatas. A natural composition for a two-piano arrangement, the piece brings out Perahia’s musical extroversion behind his demure façade, though the Larghetto possesses a tragic affect we might hear in Bach’s passion music.
That Bach’s E Major Violin Concerto makes for an effective happy Piano Concerto in D we knew from prior experience. The upper voice embellishments for the keyboard prove a dazzling array of invention through Perahia, who lavishes upon the score much digital energy–in trills, runs, and turns–and careful adjustments to degrees of acceleration and deceleration. The concentrated F Minor Concerto–whose serene beauties were first revealed to me through Edwin Fischer, Gina Bachauer, and Grant Johanessen–finds a streamlined by graciously nuanced reading in Perahia, especially in his articulate poise in layered filigree. Bach employed the lovely, mysterious Largo for his sinfonia for Cantata 156, utilizing the oboe over the delicately plucked strings. The pace for the spirited Presto, somewhat hectic, still retains its shape and the elastic sinuousness that defines the entire project. The F Major Concerto (rec. 13 May 2001) resets the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 as a delightfully airy keyboard vehicle, occasionally inserting new materials for the harpsichord continuo of the original. The learned counterpoint of the final Allegro assai becomes playfully and texturally voluptuous in this version, a happy moment of seamless ensemble. The G Minor Concerto (rec. 13 May 2001), like the D Major, transposes a familiar Violin Concerto, that in A Minor, to the keyboard medium. The identifiable Vivaldi impulses in the work gain a lyrical momentum in Bach’s intense figures, here realized in facilely ardent style by Perahia and the Academy.
The so-called Triple Concerto in A Minor (rec. 1 April 2003) offers Perahia no end of ornamental elegance, given the virtuosic source of the  “original” first and third movements as a Prelude and Fugue, BWV 894. The often thick writing culminates in some wonderful pedal points with flute Jaime Martin and violin Kenneth Sillito. The second movement, a devotional D Minor Adagio, remains a lovely, transparent trio sonata (orig. BWV 527 for organ) that now permits the keyboard to provide two independent voices. A dark undercurrent permeates the final Alla breve, an intense chromatic line we might attribute to The Musical Offering, except that the fleet last movement conveys a bravura most secular in its potent affect. Perahia has both Edwin Fischer and Glenn Gould as models for the often gossamer footsteps he imprints in the Brandenburg Fifth (rec. 29 June 2003). Perahia seems to be biding his demure time until the monumental first movement cadenza allows his proficiency full scope. The sailing trio sonata effects in the course of the first movement’s development possess a perfect sense of articulate ensemble. A dulcet Affetuoso–with lyrical aid from soli Martin and Sillito–leads to the jaunty gigue that concludes a delightfully lithe Brandenburg Fifth. Lastly, Perahia plays a solo piece, the ubiquitous 1735 Italian Concerto, whose two-manual figures–despite their reduction to the modern concert grand–still evoke the confrontation of large and diminished forces in sweet harmony. Perahia may well bask in this Bach set, a new watermark for the fusion of virtuosity and eminently idiomatic Bach style.
–Gary Lemco

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