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Perahia vs. Schiff: Dueling Bach Partitas by Jewish Pianists

By Benjamin Ivry

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Before his much-anticipated October 23 Carnegie Hall recital, of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann, the magisterial Jewish American pianist Murray Perahia is releasing a new CD on Sony Classical of three of the six Bach keyboard Partitas, Nos. 1, 5 & 6, completing the set begun last year with his CD of Partitas 2, 3, & 4. Perahia’s meltingly lyrical approach is distinguished by an ineffable quality of love, something like the tenderness found in the playing of his mentor Mieczysław Horszowski, but Perahia is a finer, more consistently rewarding pianist than the sometimes uneven Horszowski.

The Bach keyboard Partitas, previously recorded with over-adulated neurosis by Glenn Gould and two-ton doggedness by Rosalyn Tureck, are now in the hands of mature, full-hearted virtuosos like Perahia and the Hungarian Jewish pianist András Schiff who has also just released a 2-CD set of the complete Partitas on ECM.

Schiff’s performance may reveal a harder-edged, more uncompromising rigor than Perahia’s version, but is no less urgently passionate. Schiff’s highly original Beethoven sonata cycle, also on ECM, channels the composer and makes it clear that, as with Bach, Beethoven’s music can express a truculent, mordant personality. Unafraid to express these and other truths as he sees them, Schiff’s Bach is the ideal complement to Perahia’s, and all lovers of piano music will want to have both.

Watch András Schiff play Partita No. 2 in C Minor BWV 826 below.

Catch Murray Perahia live in recital in Vancouver (Oct 4); Denver (Oct 8); San Francisco (Oct. 11); Los Angeles (Oct. 13); Washington, DC (Oct. 17); Durham, NC (Oct. 20); in his current tour leading up to his October 23 Carnegie Hall performance.


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