Murray Perahia - Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
After decades of thought and study, Murray Perahia makes first recording of “Hammerklavier” Sonata as part of compelling new Beethoven album for Deutsche Grammophon
“Perahia might have been the composer, so surely – and freely – did he proceed, blazing the trail, lighting the way,” Chicagoontheaisle.com, May 2017
It takes near-superhuman powers for a musician to achieve the status of living legend. Murray Perahia has done so with performances that draw listeners deep into the drama, the emotional ebb and flow, and the spiritual heart of his instrument’s core repertoire. The 70-year-old American artist’s latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, set for international release on 9 February 2018, couples two monuments to Beethoven’s ground-breaking genius, the mighty “Hammerklavier” and sublime “Moonlight” sonatas, radical works that span a vast emotional universe. Perahia’s visionary recordings, comparable to the finest in the catalogue, represent remarkable new benchmarks of Beethoven interpretation.
The New York Times, after a performance in May 2016, declared that the wait for Perahia’s “Hammerklavier” had been worth it. The newspaper’s senior critic observed that his approach was “majestic and stirring, with spacious passages where he gave clarity and lyricism to the piece’s milky harmonies and mingling inner voices”, going on to add that Perahia’s performance “exuded integrity and seemed the result of decades of thought”.
The pianist embraced the opportunity to record the most demanding of all Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas for Deutsche Grammophon. “I think it’s presumptuous of me to say whether it’s ready or not,” he notes with characteristic humility. “But I’m happy with the way the interpretation has evolved and, for the moment at least, it seems to answer some of my questions about the piece.” Those questions encompassed everything from the composer’s controversial metronome markings, sometimes set as symbols of an unattainable ideal, to considerations of the sound qualities Beethoven had in mind.
Perahia’s recording, whose release coincides with the bicentenary of the “Hammerklavier” sonata’s completion in 1818, captures the composition’s grandeur and weight while revealing countless subtle tonal nuances, dynamic contrasts and musical insights. “I think the challenge of this music is still alive because one can get deeper and deeper into its mysteries,” he comments. “The mysteries in a piece as complicated as the ‘Hammerklavier’ are endless. What did he mean, for instance, by this G flat that comes from nowhere at the end of the first movement? Everything is connected in Beethoven – there isn’t a random note. And yet this feels improvisatory, entirely spontaneous. It’s just one of the mysteries that will intrigue and occupy musicians forever.”
The spirit of improvisation runs through Murray Perahia’s reading of the “Hammerklavier” sonata’s Adagio sostenuto, among the most expansive of all Beethoven’s slow movements. It also pervades his interpretation of the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 “Moonlight”. The pianist chose to pair the two works above all because of their differences. As he notes, the “Moonlight” is more fantasy than sonata, much freer in form than the four-movement “Hammerklavier”.
Perahia’s understanding of the “Moonlight” deepened as he prepared a new edition of the work for the German publishers Henle. He gathered additional imaginative fuel from recent research suggesting that Beethoven may have intended his sonata to emulate the Aeolian harp, hugely popular during the composer’s lifetime, and is convinced that the harp-like arpeggios of the “Moonlight” represent Beethoven’s vision of the Aeolian instrument.
“I love all the Beethoven piano sonatas and my favourites are perhaps the last few of them,” he concludes. “But the ‘Moonlight’ is one of the great sonatas. Its novelty is something that shouldn’t be underestimated – there had never been a piece like this in the Classical style that used pedalling to create such a new sound. It was a freedom that I don’t think had been heard before , so innovative and still so deeply moving.”