INKPOT#48 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Perahia Plays Handel & Scarlatti (SONY)
Murray Perahia Plays Handel & Scarlatti
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Suite No 5 in F
Chaconne in G
Suite No 3 in D minor
Suite No 2 in F Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in D K491
Sonata in B minor K27
Sonata in C# minor K247
Sonata in D K29
Sonata in A K537
Sonata in E K206
Sonata in A K212 SONY Classical SK 62785
by Daniel Chua I bought this CD just before Christmas at HMV as a Christmas present for myself. There are 2 reasons why I chose this CD: firstly, as far as I know, Murray Perahia has never made a bad recording; secondly, I just read from the internet that this CD won 2 major recording prizes. In the event, I was not disappointed. This recording is a real revelation.
Handel and Scarlatti were contemporaries and once pitted their skills in a friendly improvisation contest on harpsichord and organ. Witnesses tactfully accorded victory to both, granting Handel supremacy on the organ but giving Scarlatti the edge at the harpsichord. I suppose this is as good an excuse as any to program their compositions together.
I am not sure if Mr. Handel (left) will recognise his own compositions as played by Murray Perahia if he can be resurrected to listen to this CD. These keyboard suites were originally composed for an instrument like the harpsichord, which unlike a pianoforte, does not sound louder or softer in accordance with the finger pressure applied to the keys. In the hand of someone like Richter in his Penguin rossetted performance (EMI forte CZS 5 69337-2), these pieces are recognisably of harpsichord origin. Richter played beautifully, with long breathed phrases and poetic legato. However, these pieces sound totally different in Murray Perahias hands.
Perahias legato is no less beautiful but his performance is mercurial with variegated tonal shades that a harpsichord is not capable of. His touch is lucid, his tempo flexible and his phrasing full of nuances and surprising turns of speed and shades. These pieces emerge with beguiling warmth, romanticism and pianism. A good example of this is the Air with 5 variations in Suite No.5. Richter took 4’33” whereas Perahia got through it in 3’31”. Yet Perahias performance does not sound at all rushed. He is more technically dazzling and just as secure, extracting more poetry and yes, fun out of this piece.
The foregoing remarks apply equally to the Scarlatti pieces. Domenico (right) is the son of Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), himself a noted composer. If you have never heard the music of the Scarlattis , you will be thoroughly surprised by the variety and the virtuosity required to play these sonatas. There are folkloric sound of castanets and guitars, hunting horn scenes, demanding crossed-hand passages and despairing Andalusian plaint in these works. Some of these are the most difficult pieces in the repertoire. Listen to K29 and tell me if anyone had ever played with more technical panache and ease yet with so such musicianship and feeling.
Purists may throw up their hands in horror at the treatment of these pieces by Perahia. However, if they choose to ignore this CD, they would be missing out on one of the most refreshing and insightful piano CDs I have come across in 30 years of record and CD collecting.
There is only one last thing to deal with, the sonic of this CD. Well, the recording is a bit soft in the bass region but not lacking in warmth. (I have yet to hear any CD which captures the full frequency spectrum of a piano truthfully.) The sound of Sony Classical CD recordings has improved tremendously in recent years and this disc is quite indicative of this improvement. Rush out and buy it.
This disc is available at or can be ordered from Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), HMV (The Heeren), Sing Discs (Raffles City) or Borders Music (Wheelock Place).
Daniel Chua still thinks LPs sound much better than anything digital.
Other classical music reviews by this or any other writer can be obtained from the InkVault by doing a key word search with the writer’s name.
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