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Listening Post: Murray Perahia Plays Bach


Bach, 'The French Suites' BWV-812-817 performed by pianist Murray Perahia (Deutsche Gramophon, two discs).

The question with Murray Perahia's Bach was answered triumphantly long ago. To wit, what happens when a pianist acknowledged to be among the world's premiere Mozart performers turns to Bach? Reverse the question, after all, and the results could be legendarily dismaying e.g. Bach master Glenn Gould's anarchic Mozart.

In Murray Perahia's case, the answer has long been this: the music is sublime. It's not just the equal of Perahia's Mozart but maybe even superior. Imagine some of the most expressive movements of Perahia's Mozart and what's what Perahia brings to Bach, particularly the slow movements. What Perahia says in the notes: "Bach has always been central to my life. Although I played a few pieces as a child, the first time I heard Bach in concert was when Bach Pablo Casals conducted the 'St. Matthew Passion' at Carnegie Hall when I was about 15. This left an idelible impression on me. The way he performed it was very human. At that time, the early '60's, we often heard Bach performed in a mechanical way." Not this. Not at all. "'The French Suites' are Bach on the highest level" says Perahia "even though it's music that could be approached by children. They are nevertheless quite profound.

I don't think Bach wrote one note that didn't have wider meanings and that wasn't to be tackled with all one's heart and soul." Bach, says the pianist, is what he personally played during a long difficult time when he had to give up public performances because of a finger infection that wouldn't heal. "I studied Bach every day and it would nourish me. For that I'm very grateful."

3 1/2 stars out of four



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