Murray Perahia: Bonding With Bach And Chopin

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Pianist Murray Perahia i i

Murray Perahia's warm, rippling tone is well-suited to the music of both Bach and Chopin. Nana Watanabe hide caption

itoggle caption Nana Watanabe
Pianist Murray Perahia

Murray Perahia's warm, rippling tone is well-suited to the music of both Bach and Chopin.

Nana Watanabe

I've never understood how some pianists pull it off.

After all, the piano is such a welter of machinery: Push a key and before you hear a note, a small lever pushes against an intermediate lever, which pushes a jack, which pushes a roller, which pushes a hammer toward the strings.

How in the world can anyone transmit a distinctive personal touch and feel through that Rube Goldberg apparatus? But a select few do. In this studio session, Murray Perahia displays his extraordinary and instantly recognizable piano sound, in music by Bach and Chopin. He plays with lucid clarity. No matter how fast he's going, every note rings clear and true. His phrases have a characteristic ripple, a shape that is always and only Perahia.

He's a keen student of the finest details of piano performance, as well as a deep thinker about music history, and he likes to talk about Bach's genius. How the composer grappled with the constraints imposed by his bosses, who wanted a simple set of new pieces for each Sunday service. And how, despite his narrow-minded overseers, Bach found a way to fill his music with both emotion and immense logical structure. Perahia also gets into some fascinating granular specifics about rhythm: Listen to his demonstration (about 10 minutes into our studio session) of rhythmic emphasis. He shows us how playing with metronomic precision is, frankly, boring. Just a subtle shift, and what was dull suddenly springs to life.

Perahia's latest CD is a set of Bach Partitas, which I cannot recommend highly enough. And what a treat to hear him play in our studios and hear his mind wrap itself around this astonishing music.

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