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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Dvorák Beaux Arts Trio, Wigmore Hall, Monday, January 19th, 2004 (CC)




The Radio 3 Monday Lunchtime Concerts series from the Wigmore Hall has produced some memorable concerts in the 2003/4 season, but this one was surely the crowning glory so far. No surprise that tickets were hard to come by as the Beaux Arts Trio, no less, gave aristocratic yet fresh accounts of two chamber music gems.

The current line-up of the Beaux Arts is the venerable Menahem Pressler (piano); Daniel Hope (violin) and Antonio Meneses (cello). Hope is the most recent recruit, having taken his place as a permanent member in 2002. The combination of youthful enthusiasm and fine experience is a powerful one indeed. The very name of the ensemble is enough to inspire veneration in all but the most hardened music-lover.

Beethoven’s Op. 11 of 1798, which began the concert, was originally a Trio for clarinet, cello and piano. Yet when it was published it came with an alternative, idiomatically written part for violin and it was in this form (straightforward piano trio) that it was played on this occasion.

This is very youthful Beethoven. Contrasts are deliberately larger than life, and the Beaux Arts Trio made sure that the verve of the opening played off the ensuing melting lyricism perfectly. The juxtaposition of the two set up a tension that ran throughout the first movement, underpinning the delightful, easy invention. Interplay of violin and cello was miraculous (and how witty were Pressler’s scales!). Only some tricky ornaments revealed that he is not as agile as perhaps he used to be. Yet how marvellous was his pedalling in the Adagio (to pedal this well is the fruit of long experience); and how intimate, also, the violin and cello dialogues.

The delightful, airy theme that forms the material for the finale’s variations (a comic trio from Joseph Weigl’s opera L’amor marinaro, a hit in Vienna in 1797) was given ‘the works’, taking in along the way a disembodied, whispered ‘minore’; scampering violin scales; a catchy dotted-rhythm variation and a beautifully shaded coda. This was far, far more than a mere warm-up.

Dvorák’s Piano Trio in E minor of 1890/1, the ‘Dumky’ was given a performance it would surely be hard to better. The single most memorable aspect of this sequence of six dumky (plural of ‘dumka’) was the sense of fantasy it projected. Just as Dvorák’s imagination was in free-fall when he wrote it, so the Beaux Arts Trio seemed to be caught on the wing. The prototypical first movement (Lento – maestoso - Allegro) set the scene with a broad, sweeping gesture preceding a jubilant dance. True, Pressler might not be as nimble as perhaps he once was in the coda, but the way he weighted his chords was a thing of wonder. Cellist Antonio Meneses, too, seemed to peak, especially in the more lamenting, yearning phrases Dvorák gave him. The opening of the third movement was positively mesmeric, at first disembodied as Pressler’s right hand gave out a melody in as rapt a fashion as is imaginable. Contrasts within the work were at times highlighted to great effect, nowhere more than in the final movements ‘Lento maestoso’ against a ‘Vivace’. There was never a doubt that Dvorák’s imagination in this work is magnificent. And there was no doubting, either, that the Beaux Arts Trio matched that inspiration in kind.

Colin Clarke

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