Press Reviews

Alain Lompech - Le Monde - The last note of the pianist of pianists, Vlado Perlemuter

Vlado Perlemuter slipped towards to the piano just like a cat on an armchair. Almost without moving, without the least effort, he filled the concert hall right to the very last row with a luminous sonority. The pianist's art is one of illusion. Jewish, Lithuanian naturalised French, Vlado Perlemuter was the incarnation of this balance, of this art of litotes which is said to be so French.

His fingers had difficulty with the music. His memory was poor. Nevertheless, he managed to imitate one of the great masters of the past, Ferruccio Busoni, Wilhelm Backhaus, Serge Rachmaninov, the pianists that he venerated the most, the great virtuosi. On great evenings he came close to them.

If Vlado Perlemuter had not heard the bullets flying close by in December 1942, if the go-between who saved his life by taking him to Switzerland had not been killed, if having survived had not stifled the desire to achieve fame which motivates all artists, his career would certainly have been more jet-set than it was. But Perlemuter hated the public for the stage-fright that they caused him. A stage-fright often close to panic, which reduced him to a wreck slumped in a chair, preferably in a corner of his dressing room, just  like a rabbit about to be caught seeks refuge in a corner of his cage.

One evening in 1982, Perlemuter didn't want to enter the stage. That morning, in a concert hall overlooking the Mont Blanc, he was unable to play a scale without faltering. During this disastrous rehearsal he turned towards the snowcapped peak and said to us, “ I don't know anything anymore, and he doesn't care; his eternity doesn't care”. That evening we had to lead him to the stage and push him on to it. The lights, the applause... Suddenly, Perlemuter straightened up, went to the piano and played Beethoven's Appassionata, Ravel's Miroirs, Fauré's Thème et Variations with this great simplicity, this unique sound which all his confrères so admired.

Acclaimed in great Britain, in Japan, in Canada, in Australia, in France Vlado Perlemuter refused to play for a long time because of a dramatic memory lapse in Schumann's Symphonic Studies.

However, he did come back to the Pleyel concert hall, the Champs-Elysées theatre, to Châtelet, and in the last years to La Roque-d'Anthéron festival, acclaimed by a public who loved him, a public composed of  dozens of pianists not to mention the dozens of illegal cassette recorders …

Life had been tough on him, but he himself was neither sad nor boring. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton still delighted him. He was unbeatable on their films and seemed to know each sequence by heart. Amusing, subtle, deeply human, he couldn't tolerate the casualness of those who used music to exhibit their own ego. Sometimes he could be terrible. But he forgave everything where artists were concerned. As a member of the Chopin competition in Warsaw in 1965 he never forgot how Martha Argerich played Chopin's Barcarolle: “ At the end of the first phrase I was in tears: I knew that no other candidate could exist beside her”.

Much later, during a programme on France Musique in which two recordings of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit and Miroirs were confronted, two pianists avoided a massacre:Walter Gieseking and Martha Argerich. Concerning the latter, he replied to a critic who was nit picking over the tempi: “She plays fast, but she has understood everything. I say that she plays fast like all the old who say that of the young because they can no longer do the same”.

Vlado Perlemuter spends his time deepening his understanding of the texts. He, who was the first pianist to play Prokofiev's Third concerto after the composer himself, often said he could have learned all of  Rachmaninov and Prokofiev's concertos if he hadn't preferred to deepen his understanding of Ravel, Chopin, Debussy, Fauré and Schumann, Liszt's sonata. Where interpretation was concerned the idea of the performer passing before the music was totally alien to him.

To read the creator's subconscious

No one has understood Ravel like Perlemuter, he finished by resembling his composer 'fetish'. When so many of his confreres give the appearance of being meticulous, exacerbating the brilliant, rippling  of the piano of the Miroirs, of  Gaspard de la nuit, of the Tombeau de Couperin, he deciphers the anguish of the Oiseaux triste', the hypnotic, sensual torpor of La Valée de cloches, the hypnotic beating of Gibet. Having renounced all self-representation Vlado Perlemuter has the right to be on familiar terms with Chopin, not the friendliest of composers. By embracing this strange music of a solitary revolutionary in a classical gesture,  Vlado Perlemuter sides with Richter: “Chopin has been refused greatness because he has only written short pieces”.

Vlado Perlemuter brought out the harmony of the details which throw light on the architecture, traces the humoristic accompaniment which undermines the vainly, conquering allure of the finale of the third sonata. He sings with a freedom which never ignores the musical bar line,shaping the melodic lines in the depth of the chords. You must listen to his playing of the Fourth Ballade, the Nocturnes, la Barcarolle and  the Polonaise-Fantasie of the Pole. This way of reading a creator's subconscious, to project it into that of the listener, make Perlemuter, not the greatest pianist of his time, there are hundreds who merit this ephemeral glory, but perhaps one of those who, with the most constancy, will have merged with the composers that he played.

A few months before he died, Claudio Arrau wanted to work again on Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit and les Miroirs with Vlado Perlemuter. The Frenchman at first refused saying to the messenger: ”What do you think two old people can do together?” He finally gave in to the constant requests of Arrau.

The Chilean had heard the famous Nimbus recordings and at last understood the works that he had known for so long, which he had tried, but which had resisted him.

Alain Lompech, Le Monde, 6 September 2002. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author




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