Search - Classic Archive: Murray Perahia - Beethoven, the Complete Piano Concertos on DVD

Classic Archive: Murray Perahia - Beethoven, the Complete Piano Concertos
Classic Archive Murray Perahia - Beethoven the Complete Piano Concertos
Actor: Murray Perahia
Director: --
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
NR     2009     2hr 56min


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Movie Details

Actor: Murray Perahia
Director: --
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Classical, Documentary
Studio: Ideale Audience Intl
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 01/27/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1988
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 56min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Subtitles: German, English
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Movie Reviews

Beethoven Concertos par excellence
Charles Andrew Whitehead | Fort Worth, Texas | 01/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Murray Perahia has a wonderful performing manner in live performance- he is fully engaged and allows the music to flow through him with simple conviction. He is a musician whose pianism shows a thoughtfulness and refinement that always serves an expressive end. While possessing a virtuoso technique (his scales and arpeggios are so fluid and beautifully executed), he never draws attention to technical display or artistic indulgences that deviate from the score. This modern and rather objective interpretive philosophy contrasts with early recordings of 19th century virtuosi (Friedman, d'Albert, Huberman for example) whose sense of fantasy, imagination and lack of manufacture or exposure to mass-media produced artists of greater individuality. Like anything, we have lost something of this even if we have gained from a greater fidelity to musical text, appropriate performance practice and more perfect performances. However it is what happens between the notes where much of the mystery of interpretation lies and one senses that Perahia, like other great artists genuinely feels this and it shows on this DVD.

Murray Perahia's 1988 performances of the Beethoven concertos with the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Fields under Sir Neville Marriner are accounts which bring to life all of the vigor, daring, and exuberance of these five very different works. They are performed with great strength of conviction, highlighting the dramatic contrasts with an elegant and effortless virtuosity. Perahia is never looking at these works in hindsight but from their very innovational perspective in music history- the legacy they emerged from and passed down by J.C.Bach, Haydn and Mozart (listen to K271, K414 and K491). There is an inner pulse that conductor-pianist-orchestra are feeling together that drives the performances and while the phrasing generally breathes in the most natural way, fortes and accents are never forced or lose their sense of vibrancy. Chords are always balanced so that we continue to hear the voice-leadings regardless of the tempo. One always hears a strong relationship to the bass in Perahia's playing and a sensitivity towards harmonic structure. In keeping with Perahia's belief in Schenkerian principles, there always seems to be an overall architectural awareness that never takes away from the principle climaxes within each work but he is also alert to the smaller articulations that keep the music bright and lively.

Perahia- a committed Mozartian, excels in the early concertos, reveling in the dialogue between piano and orchestra with a kind of responsiveness encountered in good chamber playing. The Academy of St. Martins in The Fields also sound balanced, alert to textural change and convey on their modern instruments many of the positive aspects of period performance practice. Bright tempos, transparent textures, sharp dynamic contrasts and prevailing forward momentum characterize these interpretations and there is clarity in defining thematic relationships. Downbeats and arrival points are never exaggerated and Perahia's technique and musical mind always maintain a wonderful sense of line. He plays the motivic gestures with a natural propulsion, vividly outlining their shape while giving phrase endings graceful repose.

If by virtue of Perahia's natural virtuosity and musicianship the third concerto is lacking a little of the inner struggle and darkness inherent in the score, it is certainly played with great energy and vitality. Certain voices within the orchestra occasionally seem a little under characterized and the thematic contrasts later in the movement become less vivid in the relationship from idea to idea. The cadenzas to the first and third movements are brilliant and yet the tension is not built up enough at the end of the very well played first movement cadenza for there to feel a complete sense of release in the extended coda that the music calls out for. As in the earlier concertos, the episodes of the finale capture much of the rhythmic swagger in the articulation and the overall impression is still of a tremendously commanding performance.

Tovey relays that Beethoven himself played the premiere of the Op.58 Concerto at a "tremendous pace". Perahia seems to have taken this to heart as the tempos employed are definitely on the fast side and lose a certain gravity (especially in the slow movement) that some interpretations offer. We do not necessarily feel that things are transformed in the first movement recapitulation in a way that Furtwangler revealed they should because of the events that have led up to that point. (Arrau does this wonderfully in his Schubert C minor sonata first movement and Barenboim makes similar comments in his Masterclass DVD with Jonathan Biss on Beethoven's Op.109 last movement when the theme returns at the end). Nevertheless, Perahia never loses his poise and the development of the first movement maintains a high intensity and sense of drama. Marriner describes this as the most theatrical and dialog driven of the concertos. Here the coda of the first movement does seem integrated with all that has gone before. The world of the 9th symphony that we glimpse in the finale is wonderfully caught by soloist and orchestra and everything plays out with a sense of inevitability.

As for the fifth Concerto, it is all of a piece and a tremendous experience on this DVD with all the drama, virtuosity and lyricism of real Beethoven. Perahia has the full measure of the piece and breathes together with conductor and orchestra. Transitions are seamless and everything makes sense without losing any energy or excitement. We are in excellent hands here! The camera work and video editing give us a great insight into these performances at the Royal Festival Hall and the sound is excellent. Also recommended is Annie Fischer with Dorati and Mura in Concertos 1, 3 and 5 (Doremi vol.1), Ashkenazy/Haitink's third concerto on a Decca DVD (less idiomatic playing than Perahia but his more introverted and moody playing suit the music very well), Backhaus with Knappertsbusch in the fourth concerto (TDK DVD), the Emperor Op.73 in Rosalyn Tureck's incredibly vibrant account of the first movement (VAI Historic Television Appearances DVD), Barenboim and Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1994 (TDK) and Van Cliburn's exquisitely poetic version of the slow movement (VAI DVD but can also be viewed on youtube).

All in all, this is a great reference collection and one which will enjoy repeated viewings and hearings. This DVD 2-pack does not include the interviews Jane Glover had discussing these works with Perahia and Marriner and originally issued on the Virgin Classics VHS release. I would say that Perahia's live performances bring even more sparkle than his studio accounts of these works and anyone who has seen (as well as heard) his Mozart Concertos K467 and K595 (including rehearsal and interview footage) with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe or the Aldeburgh Recital video/LD (actually a studio recital) will know what I mean. Now if there was only a DVD of his live Chopin Concertos with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic...."
Wonderful, but note a few production flaws
D. DEGEORGE | Ellicott City, MD USA | 06/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This review is primarily to call attention to an error in labeling, which is not Amazon's error, but a misleading indication on the product itself. These claim to be PCM Stereo recordings; but they are in fact 2-channel mono, which is to say that both channels are identical. I give five stars for the performances and for the fact that BBC & Medici Arts made these available, but only one or two stars for the production values. I am not weighing the latter too heavily because these are indeed fine performances.

For anyone who may be interested, I will enumerate the deficiencies I found in the production of these DVDs. They are TV programs transferred to DVD, and I found a bit of a labeling problem associated with this: the source is referred to as "film," rather than videotape, while by the looks of things it is almost certainly the latter. Had these concerts been recorded on film, they could have been made into better DVDs; but as it is, these are no better than standard-definition TV. The picture problem doesn't stop here, however; the package indicates the aspect ratio as 4:3, the old TV standard; but for those of us who like our circles to show as circles rather than ellipses, we are not happy that the aspect ratio must actually be somewhere between 4:3 and wide-screen 16:9, meaning that we have to live with either a pinched or stretched image, depending upon whether we adjust our sets for standard or wide-screen, respectively. I wonder if this is a product of converting from the European/British TV system to NTSC, or just some sort of weird compromise to get the entire picture on to a standard TV without letterboxing.

I was not surprised to find that there was no 5.1 surround, and I agree with the decision not to attempt to simulate it for the benefit of modern home theaters; but two-channel mono seems a bit backward even for 1988 TV; and the lack of aural ambience that results is unfortunate, although by no means a show stopper for me. The live recording itself is a little substandard in addition to the lack of stereo, exhibiting slight distortion in loud passages, with an overall sonic congestion at times.

In addition, an unnecessarily poor decision was made regarding layer shifts on these DVDs. First, it is not clear why the decision was made to make the DVDs dual-layer: the programs are less than two hours, the video quality is not otherwise good enough that the slight amount of compression required to put the entire program on one layer would have been noticed, and there is only one 2-channel soundtrack. Next, compounding the error, on DVD 1 the layer shift occurs toward the end of the finale of the Concerto No. 2; surely the tiny amount of compression that would have been required to fit slightly over one hour of content onto the first layer would have been preferable to the picture & audio pause that occurs near the end of the concerto. On DVD 2, either by accident or design, the layer shift occurs during the transition to the last movement of Concerto No. 5 and thus is not quite so intrusive. Before making this criticism, I have taken care to play the discs in three different DVD players; and while it should be technically possible to produce players that read and buffer far enough ahead to compensate for layer shifts, it appears that this is not usually the case; and DVD producers should take this into account.

Well, I guess I should be grateful that a visual record of these performances exists at all. Once I got past the shortcomings of the production (which, along with a lack of program notes, perhaps account for the budget price), I found this to be a satisfying set of performances and valuable documentation of an earlier year in the career of one of the world's very top pianists. I do not intend this review to dissuade serious music lovers from acquiring this set; but I think some of these minor issues should be noted; for one thing, subsequent issues of these DVDs could correct the misleading "stereo" indication and do something about the dual-layer shifts."
Three Hours of Pure Pleasure
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I don't know whether this collection of 1988 concert performances of all the Beethoven piano concertos by Murray Perahia and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner was ever available on VHS, but I'm certainly glad it came along now on DVD. It was originally recorded for broadcast of BBC-TV -- can you imagine such a thing on American PBS? -- and is recorded in the sound and sight of the time. It has been remastered but there is still clear evidence aurally that it came from twenty years ago. And the Farrah Faucett hairdos and day-glo colors of the dresses of the female members of the ASMF are a hoot. But the performances themselves more than make up for any anachronisms or dated technical issues. Perahia is one of the true aristocrats of the piano and his playing is magnificent. His universally lauded beauty of tone is in evidence, but just as much is his obvious joy in the performance of this music, especially in the faster movements. I love how he swings the 'Tico Tico' passage in the rondo of the First Concerto, and his slight smile while playing the devil out of the finale of the Second Concerto betrays his own utter joy at doing so. Just as impressive is his manner with the more dramatic passages. The first movement of the C Minor Concerto is given the full weight of its drama. The monster first movement cadenza -- Beethoven's own -- in the First Concerto is as dramatic as any I've ever heard.

When we get to the second disc -- yes, you get two DVDs for less than $30! -- we get to what are generally considered the acme of Beethoven's piano concerto writing and we get Perahia at his best. The Fourth in particular is filled with poetry and passion. The solo piano opening of the first movement makes one hold one's breath with its serene beauty. The conversation (or perhaps one should say the struggle) between piano and the orchestra in the second movement is narrative drama at its best. The Emperor Concerto is played with panache by both pianist and orchestra. Perahia's rhythmic incisiveness is matched by that of Marriner's ASMF. The exuberance I felt at the end of the disc made me want to start with DVD 1 all over again.

This is an Olympian set and I recommend it highly. However, if you're after absolutely up-to-date sight and sound you probably ought to look elsewhere. But if you are, like I, a fan of Perahia, someone who responds to his velvety tone and steely rhythmic spine, then this is not to be missed.

Running time: DVD1=103mins, DVD2=73mins; Format NTSC 4:3; Sound: PCM Stereo; Region code: 0 (worldwide). The booklet simply lists tracks and times; no other text. Recorded Royal Festival Hall, London, 1988.

Scott Morrison"