Beaux Arts Trio

Piano Trio in D, Op.70/1 (Ghost)
A slow Pavane [UK premiere]
Hommage – message to Christian Wolff [UK premiere]
Piano Trio in E flat, D929

Beaux Arts Trio
[Menahem Pressler (piano), Daniel Hope (violin) & Antonio Meneses (cello)]

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 29 January, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Beaux Arts Trio is world-renowned. The Amsterdam Concertgebouw commissioned the works here receiving their UK premiere to honour the Trio’s 50th-anniversary. Menahem Pressler, now 80, is a founder member. Antonio Meneses joined in 1998 and Daniel Hope in 2002.

I have not always been a fan of Pressler, but here I was all attention. Playing with magisterial reserve – and robustly removed from all emotional hurly-burly – he treats the piano percussively, but gently. Daniel Hope plays cleanly and coolly, yet sensuously. Antonio Meneses brings warmth and plays benignly, in the old style.

There is a house-style of sorts. All three musicians aim for long phrases edging towards staccato – except when Meneses delivers lyrical moments with suave, smooth legato. Vibrato is at a minimum – an accessory rather than a throbbing, thrusting intrusion. The style is finely attuned – romantic yet classical, poised and detached, yet with a considered sensitivity of feeling. My guess is that their mentor is Haydn – and I have no quarrel with that.

The Schubert was the highlight of the evening – dignified, economical, razor-like and austere. The first movement tempo was daringly steady and purposeful. Switches between groups of thematic material were played as a carefully- crafted liaison. The music breathed solemnly; the players had time and space to present many discrete and piquant sonorities. The slow movement was measured and affecting; the reserve was grave and sublime. The heavenly depth was light and almost laconic – as if shrugging off the pain of an underlying tragedy. (Schnitzler came to mind.) The two remaining movements had movement and energy – but nothing was rushed. When the slow movement’s theme made an unexpected return, it slid easily and inevitably into the last movement’s tempo.

Mark-Anthony Turnage introduced his Pavane engagingly. It looked fascinating to play. The three sections are contrasted and sounded unrelated. Stern, dark and abrasive at first, it growled with awkward intervals and some dissonance; then more traditional harmonies underpinned an ingratiating lyricism; the final section lay somewhere between the two. In György Kurtág’s brief ‘Message…’ is of terse, discrete phrases that pinged and shimmered. I had the impression of someone slowly turning a piece of cut crystal on the other side of a room so that the distant light catches edges, surfaces, colours and layers, but momentarily only, elusively. Impressive.

Finally, the concert’s beginning. I found the outer movements disengaging. Beethoven’s vigorous sections rasped noisily, violently, perfunctorily and pointlessly. The lyrical passages – played more gently – jarred equally. The great slow movement’s style was more moderated and harmonious. It was stately yet intangible but present.

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