It's a kind of journey

By William Dart

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Spanish pianist Javier Perianes becomes the most recent of the world's greatest pianists to play at Auckland Museum.
Spanish pianist Javier Perianes becomes the most recent of the world's greatest pianists to play at Auckland Museum.

I catch Javier Perianes by phone at his Hobart hotel and the Spanish pianist quickly assures me that, no, he's not watching the Olympics even though he's a big sports fan, and not just football.

"I'm here as a professional concert pianist and, with two concerts in Auckland, I'm practising," he explains, referring to Thursday's Bartok concerto with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and tonight's solo appearance in Auckland Museum's Fazioli International Piano Recital series.

Knowing the loyalty some New Zealanders feel to homegrown culture and seeing Spanish composer Manuel de Falla's music featuring prominently in tonight's programme, I'm curious to test for nationalist fervour.

Perianes' response is guarded; after all, his many Harmonia Mundi CDs are not devoted solely to his countrymen's music. As well as discs of Olallo Morales, Federico Mompou and Manuel Blasco de Nebra, "the Spanish Scarlatti," you'll find Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn.

"I debuted with the New York Philharmonic a few weeks ago playing Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, I don't necessarily play that piece any better because I'm Spanish," he exclaims, praising recordings of the work by Argentinians Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich.

"Falla created a very international concerto for any pianist with the right taste and knowledge. After all, it's influenced by French music and Debussy as well as by Spanish folk culture."

With solo recitals, Perianes insists repertoire choice needs more justification than a casual "because I like it." For him, the Auckland Museum programme is a kind of journey that almost takes the shape of a symphonic concert.

"The opening Schubert Allegretto could be an overture, with Schubert's magnificent B flat Sonata as the symphony of the evening," he says. "After interval, Falla and some Debussy Preludes show just how close a connection there is between Spanish and French music."

The lure for me is three rarely-heard Falla pieces, setting off with an 1896 Nocturno, tantalisingly described as "heavily scented with the influence of Chopin." However, Fantasia Baetica shows the composer of The Three-Cornered Hat at his creative peak and Perianes is keen to lay out the provenance of this 1919 score.

It was commissioned by renowned pianist Arthur Rubinstein who, expecting a three-four minute piece from the same mould as Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, was somewhat startled by its 14 minutes of Iberian soul-baring.

"Rubinstein did play it in South America and New York," Perianes says. "Then he abandoned it, claiming that it was too difficult, although the truth was that he didn't understand the meaning of the piece."

Fantasia Baetica is fuelled by the fire of flamenco, despite traces of Liszt and Bartok.

"It's Falla's tribute to the guitar and the very soul and spirit of Spain," he explains. "You can even hear a gypsy voice singing in it, dissonant and very insistent."

Perianes looks forward to tonight's recital, and the museum's 200-seat auditorium should ensure the intimacy he enjoys when it's "just me and my music in a direct relationship with the audience."

I can't resist asking him for his most memorable recital hall experience so far. He sidesteps the question, with the grace of a toreador, saying he looks forward "to ending my American 2017 recital tour with a concert in the iconic Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, where so many great musicians have played."

Auckland Museum has hosted some of the world's finest pianists, including Cedric Tiberghien, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Alexander Melnikov. Perhaps tonight Javier Perianes will be inspired by their triumphs to give the recital of his career.

What: Javier Perianes in concert
Where & when: Auckland Museum, tonight at 8pm

- NZ Herald

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