Renowned Pianist Vlado Perlemuter Dies

Vlado Perlemuter, a world-renowned pianist who worked with Maurice Ravel and tried to capture the diverse colors and tones of a symphony orchestra in his solo playing, has died at age 98, his recordin

Vlado Perlemuter, a world-renowned pianist who worked with Maurice Ravel and tried to capture the diverse colors and tones of a symphony orchestra in his solo playing, has died at age 98, his recording company said today (Sept. 6). Best known for his interpretations of Ravel and Frederic Chopin, Perlemuter died Wednesday at a Paris hospital, said Adrian Farmer, music director at the British record label Nimbus.

Over a seven-decade career, Perlemuter performed throughout Europe and in Asia, the U.S., and Canada. He was especially well loved in Britain, where he often played and taught. However, he neither sought out nor attained the stardom of some contemporary pianists.

Perlemuter worked to give his interpretations an "orchestral" sound, and he would endlessly try out new fingerings in search of new musical colors, Farmer said. As an exercise, Perlemuter practiced the last movement of Chopin's sonata in B-flat major -- a rapid-fire succession of scales -- with his hands crossed.

Perlemuter was born in 1904 in Kaunas, now in Lithuania, to Polish parents. After coming to Paris as a child, and taking French nationality, he studied with the world-acclaimed teacher and performer Alfred Cortot and won first prize at the Paris Conservatory at only 14.

In the mid-1920s, Perlemuter, already a success, spent months working with Ravel. Perlemuter's scores were covered with notes from the master, and the pianist was generally considered the keeper of Ravel's musical traditions for the piano.

Once, for a Nimbus recording, Perlemuter sat down at the keyboard and played more than two hours' worth of Ravel's music, nonstop. The resulting recording was not edited or touched up, Farmer said.

Perlemuter, a Jew, was forced to flee to Switzerland during World War II. It was an experience he preferred not to talk about. "It was the great embitterment of his life," Farmer said, especially because Cortot, with whom he was very close, did not leave France with him.

Perlemuter gave his last performance when he was approaching 90. Farmer, who knew Perlemuter in the last two decades of his life, said the pianist would occasionally burst into tears after playing. "If you said, 'That was beautiful, what's wrong?' he would say, 'Yes, but I will never play it so well again.'"

Perlemuter had no survivors, according to Farmer. Funeral arrangements were not complete.


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