WORKS: Lieder ohne Worte (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Murray Perahia (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 66511
Several of Murray Perahia’s recordings have become instant classics, and this one – with its natural yet meticulous, fluid yet urgent playing – deserves a similar fate. Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words are especially wonderful in Perahia’s hands; he overrides any hint of the salon with ardent conviction and uncompromising eloquence. This ‘Spinning Song’, for example, is simply ideal: the expressive element is so lively and convincing that no non-pianist could be aware of the fiendishness of the technical demands Perahia unostentatiously subdues. Piece after piece turns up newly minted, so much so that previous benchmarks can seem like unfocused, provisional statements. The Schubert/Liszt and Bach/Busoni pieces also receive sterling performances.
Paradoxically, however, diction remains important even in ‘songs without words’ (the title of this disc). Perahia’s way of playing ‘vocal’ lines in the Schubert/Liszt ‘Erlkönig’ is merely musically tasteful when set beside the variety and drama that (say) Josef Hofmann achieves with a more flexible, melody-centred delivery. Throughout this programme, melodic utterance is inflected only so far as it does not threaten textural balance or rhythmic and harmonic primacy. Perahia’s playing remains a model of its kind, but can he be encouraged to strive for a more comprehensive expressive synthesis?