A Standard-Setting DG Debut for Murray Perahia

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

With the Six French Suites, Murray Perahia’s first release under contract to Deutsche Grammophon continues his standard-setting Bach legacy that began at Sony Classical with the English Suites in 1997 and 1998. That it took three years for the present 2013 sessions to finally appear is not important; what matters most is that they reveal Perahia’s Bachian mastery at full capacity.

The pianist’s full and luminous sonority almost disguises the fact that he mainly achieves his clear line playing and colorfully subtle textures through finger power and hand balance, pedaling ever so sparingly. Each of the opening Allemande movements unfolds with spacious eloquence and subtle tonal gradations. If the C minor and B minor Courantes don’t quite match András Schiff’s supple lilt, the E major decidedly does so, and with more pointed voice leading at that.

Perahia’s Menuets are gorgeously articulated, with imaginative and meaningful shifts in emphasis on the repeats and a sense of “air” between the notes that is easier to perceive than to describe. He phrases the E major Gigue’s imitative writing more cogently than any other pianist I’ve heard on disc, and treats the D minor Gigue’s dotted rhythms with the swagger of a French Ouverture, as opposed to Schiff’s faster triple meter conception. Note, too, the C minor Gigue’s quickly flickering ornaments on the repeats.

Those who find the detached notes in Schiff’s E major Bourrée somewhat arch (or, as my British colleagues might say, “a mite twee”) will appreciate how Murray Perahia’s heftier reading yields nothing in regard to buoyancy and drive. The central Sarabandes typify Perahia’s “seasoned simplicity” with their combination of lyrical introspection and shapely mobility, and in the way they ruminate without dragging. I have no hesitation in placing Perahia’s French Suites alongside–and at times a step or two above–our longstanding Schiff and Hewitt piano reference versions.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; András Schiff (Decca); Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)

  • Murray Perahia (piano)

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