For The Record – With Peter Sagar

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This month we hear from Kambala School Head of Keyboard Peter Sagar about some music that he simply can’t live without!

Murray Perahia

I am not able to listen to as many recordings as I would like to nowadays. Unfortunately the luxury of time is not available anymore. When I think of my youth saving up, buying recordings weekly and listened to them ad nauseam trying to discover the secret of perfection and enlightenment, I yearn for that innocence (and spare time!). How wonderful it was, to hear great works for the first time. That phase in life has passed and with the extra musical knowledge one gains over time, it is difficult to sit back and just enjoy a performance for the performance’s sake.


However, there is a recording by one of my favourite pianists, Murray Perahia, which transcends all others and which I can sit back and enjoy without too much analysis. The Schumann Fantasie, an early work, is a monumental expression of Robert Schumann’s love for Clara, and who could doubt this love after hearing Perahia’s playing!


Perahia brings out a clarity and sophistication in his rendition of the Fantasie that is remarkable. The thick textures suddenly become transparent and we hear the different musical lines travelling between the parts in the most extraordinary way. Add to this Perahia’s wonderful sound at the piano, and his control in changing the colours coming out of his instrument (a Steinway no doubt!) as well as his structured concept bringing us slowly and expertly to the climaxes in each movement, and we have an unsurpassable performance.


There have been many recordings of this work – and live performances, displaying the rhythmical difficulties of the 2nd movement in particular. I will never forget hearing a performance by the great Richter whose playing just dissolved into a sea of passionate wrong notes at the end of the fore-mentioned movement. Richter’s recording is often heralded as the definitive version of this piece, and it is a very fine interpretation, but does not reach the level of poetry in Perahia’s playing. The careful shaping, pulling back a little at the height of phrases while carefully proportioning the overall individual sections shows Perahia at his best. It is difficult not to shed the occasional tear when listening to the beauty of this pianist’s playing.


The Schumann Fantasie comes coupled with the Schubert Wanderer Fantasie on the recording. I enjoy this recording still on a turntable, complete with the crackle of a well listened to record. It has been released on CD and I am sure is available to listen to on Youtube. You are in for a treat!


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