Javier Perianes Live in Hong Kong
Thu Apr 19 City Hall
The Spaniard, Javier Perianes, came to Hong Kong with outstanding credentials: major recordings of Schubert and De Falla, high praise from the likes of Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim, and bookings in the most prestigious halls of the globe. Among the latter, proud Hongkongers may recall his appearance in ‘The Rising Piano Stars Series’, in 2007, under the auspices of Premiere Performances, but, indeed, Perianes has progressed exponentially as both a house name and, more importantly, a musician, in the intervening five years.
Perianes' recital pitted Debussy against Chopin and De Falla. The life of all three musicians is linked by a fateful trait d'union: the city of Paris at its most appealing and inspiring to artists of the most diverse ilk (that is, during the ‘long’ 19th-century). It is a shared lived space, as much as artistic affinities, that explains the play of influences.
The programme also highlighted a perceptible genealogy: Chopin hence Debussy hence De Falla. A Chopin Prelude (no. 1, Book 1) was segued by Debussy's own first Prelude, while the Barcarolle paved the way for L'isle joyeuse. After a strategically placed break, Perianes experimented with a different kind of grouping: two Chopins (the Berceuse and an astonishingly clear Ballade no 4) bookended two Debussy (Clair de Lune and a translucent Prelude no 4, also from the first book).
An unexceptionable programme; even so, the thought of didactic references to such predictable givens as similarity in formal blueprints and recurrent thematic materials made me uneasy. Luckily, my skepticism proved unwarranted. To be sure, by alternating this Chopin with that Debussy, Perianes cued up the audience to uncover unhoped-for similarities in a sea of differences. But this lent the recital a leitmotivic character of sorts, enveloping it in a sweeping argument in the form of sound – to wit, a re-composition of otherwise ultra-familiar works.
In the second half, the pianist turned to his beloved De Falla, beginning, unassumingly enough, with a Nocturne only to culminate with the virtuosic Fantasia Baetica. Here the echoes multiplied. Perianes' formidable 'tuttis' revealed in De Falla a mimetic impulse to rival Domenico Scarlatti. At certain, particularly persuasive junctures, then, one heard the chain of influences and allusions distilled into grapples of multiple agency, Chopin and Debussy's legacies inseparable from De Falla's own compositional choices.
The continuities have as much to do with the performing gestures themselves – the physical act of playing – as compositional thought per se. All three composers, each in his own, idiosyncratic way, were great performers at the keyboard. Javier Perianes can lay claim to partake of this tradition, for aside from his technical mastery he has shown the ambition to rethink this repertory in ways both imaginative and persuasive.