Murray Perahia has won the hearts of many music lovers with his well thought, touching performances. As former New York Times senior music critic Harold C. Schonberg said of him, he's "serious, stylish, sensitive". Most recently, we've heard him give astonishingly compelling accounts of Bach's Goldberg Variations, the English Suites, the Partitas, and concerti with the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields. Now, for the first time in twenty years, he's turned to Brahms. Personally, I think that this is a highly logical choice. Brahms, like Bach requires a strong sense of harmonic mastery, control, and melodic inspiration. Perahia certainly has proven himself to be a fabulous Bach interpreter - there's not doubt about it. But there are a few elements in Brahms music that aren't in Bach's. Brahms' music, especially his latter works, is almost overflowing with melancholy and retrospection that one never finds in Bach. Personally, I was afraid that Perahia might not have the ability to successfully deliver an inspiring, yet sobering performance of these autumnal works.
But I needn't have worried. Perahia has taken full advantage of the tremendous potential in these intellectually challenging works. Perahia will have the listener sitting on the edge of their seat being carried away by contagious excitement; the next moment the listener will be sitting back fighting tears. While Perahia's playing is full of feeling and sentiment, he never resorts to hysteria. Certainly this will not be a surprise to those familiar with the great pianist's work. However, listeners will be surprised by the thrilling amount of drama and excitement Perahia delivers; we're not used to him sounding so masculine.
In the Handel Variations, Perahia delves into the rich beauty of this masterful composition. While he's restrained as always, Perahia creates a feeling of amazing tension that slowly builds up to the last variations and the great fugue. There's an incredible power and sweep released from Perahia's fingers in the more upbeat variations; in the more laid-back ones Perahia delivers heart-touching soul and intimacy. While the Op. 79 Rhapsodies don't come across as effectively as the Variations, this is more than made up for with the following Piano Pieces, Op. 118 and 119. These are deeply emotional pieces with an ever-present melancholy and a very real sense of tragedy. Perahia marvelously captures the drama while preventing the music from sounding harsh or forced. The ever-popular Intermezzo in A from the Op. 118 is almost heart-rending.
I do not hesitate to give this album my highest praise. Those new to Perahia will undoubtedly be convinced by his obvious dedication; those familiar with him are sure to consider this one of his greatest accomplishments.
(Copied from my Amazon.com review)