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Menahem Pressler - A 90th Birthday Celebration - Live in Paris
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, B.155 [38:07]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Quintet in A major, D.667 The Trout [37:39]
Menahem Pressler (piano)
Quatuor Ebčne (Pierre Colombet (violin); Gabriel Le Magadure (violin); Mathieu Herzog (viola); Raphaël Merlin (cello))
Benjamin Berlioz (double bass)
rec. live, 7 November 2013, Salle Pleyel, Paris
WARNER ERATO 2564 625964 [CD: 75:39; DVD: 116:30]

When the Beaux Arts Trio gave its farewell concert in 2008, one would have thought this was an opportunity for Menahem Pressler, then well into his eighties, to hang up his boots and retire. The pianist, however, had other ideas. Since that time he has maintained a schedule of concerts and projects, and still teaches at Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. One such concert took place on 7 November 2013, when a group of eminent musicians came together at the Salle Pleyel in Paris to celebrate the 90th birthday of this distinguished artist. Thanks to the LGM Télévision company under the direction of Sébastien Glas, this legendary concert was recorded and has now been made available by Erato.

Two piano quintets constitute the bulk of the programme. As can be seen from the DVD, Pressler is very alert, responsive and heedful of his string colleagues, watching them attentively throughout. For a man of ninety his instrumental facility shows no signs of wear, and it is heartening to witness his technical assuredness.

This account of the Dvořák Op. 81 must be one of the most compelling readings of this sublime masterpiece I have ever come across. The first movement has a passionate intensity I have rarely heard matched. In the Dumka movement, the players relish the gorgeous, memorable theme. There is a wistful melancholy and tenderness pervading the reading. The Scherzo is rhythmically buoyant and fleet of foot. The ravishingly played finale sets the seal on a strongly argued performance.

There is no shortage of fine recordings of the Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet. My favourites include Schiff and the Hagen Quartet and the classic Curzon and the Vienna players. The present live performance under review can be confidently added to the list. I find it engaging and uplifting with great freedom and spontaneity. At no time does the piano dominate. It is a reading characterized by a sense of shared purpose, with each player given his moment in the sun. Benjamin Berlioz joins the group on the double bass.

Sitting between the two piano quintets on the DVD, Christoph Prégardien and Menahem Pressler perform four songs from Winterreise and the song Die Forelle. The two had presented a complete Winterreise at the Verbier Festival in 2012, in what was the first time the pianist had performed the work. Pressler had commented prior to the Festival “I have loved it all my life. To do it, especially at this point in my life and with a singer whose voice is stunning, is thrilling. His record accompanies me every single day. I do many other things, but this is the center of my summer life.”

Pressler’s solo career was launched after the war by a prestigious win at the 1946 Debussy Competition in San Francisco. There was to be another decade before the Beaux Arts Trio came into existence. As a poignant touch, to round off the evening, the Quatuor Ebčne play the slow movement from Debussy’s String Quartet as a surprise encore, much to the appreciation and pleasure of the maestro. He, in turn, plays Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth.

I certainly concur with Michael Cookson’s enthusiastic endorsement of this release in his review last month, when he nominated it a ‘Recording of the Month’. Chamber music enthusiasts will surely find a place for it on their shelves.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Michael Cookson
Dvořák and Schubert quintets
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise, for voice and piano, D.911
No. 5: Der Linden Baum [4:15]
No. 11: Frühlingstraum [3:55]
No. 15: Die Krähe [1:44]
No. 24: Der Leiermann [3:10]
Lied: Die Forelle, D.550 [2:11]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Third movement Andantino from String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 [8:58]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49)
Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth. [3:38]
rec. live, 7 November 2013, Salle Pleyel, Paris, France
Menahem Pressler (piano)
Quatuor Ebčne
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
An LGM Télévision production
Directed by Sébastien Glas
DVD: Colour
Sound format: Stereo PCM 2.0
Region Code 0
English - No subtitles


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