Beaux Arts Trio – Wigmore Hall (January 16)

Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1/3
Piano Trio in A minor
Piano Trio in B flat, D898

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

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 16 January, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A full and appreciative house, standing room only, greeted the Beaux Arts Trio with the kind of warmth and enthusiasm reserved for lifetime friends – which, of course, the Trio is. Throughout its nearly-50-year existence, the anchor has been Menahem Pressler. Despite several changes of string players, the Beaux Arts is a welcome constant in a changing world, Pressler synonymous with it. This is not to diminish the contributions of Daniel Hope, the English violinist, and Antonio Meneses, the Brazilian cellist; however, Pressler – 80 last month – is one of music’s glories and the rock of the Trio.

On this occasion the official programme was supplemented by two encores – by Shostakovich and Dvorák, which gave a very fair conspectus of the Trio’s versatility, a group which has consistently championed a wide range of music from Haydn to Schnittke, and with such success. Other great Trios such as Stern, Rose and Istomin may have been sovereign in the core repertoire but few have been as stylistically all-embracing as the Beaux Arts.

For the majority of the audience the Schubert Trio was probably the concert’s main business and it was indeed a fine performance, gemütlich and affectionately relaxed. Just occasionally in the first movement Daniel Hope’s violin seemed slightly strained and at odds with the unforced lyricism of his partners as if he – the most recent member of the trio – were momentarily trying too hard to impose himself, whilst his partners revisited the music so lovingly as to be in danger of slipping into self-parody. The slow movement’s sublime uninterrupted song, and the Scherzo, were unalloyed delights however, and the finale rambled amiably to its garrulous conclusion a bit like a favourite Aunt who has stayed slightly too long after tea.

The truly exceptional performance of the evening was the Ravel, music conceived on the eve of the First World War. Ravel is said to have considered it “almost too classical”; if so, it is classicism tinged by a deep sense of unease and foreboding. In the Scherzo, ’Pantoum’, there is a scarcely subdued menace. It makes extreme demands on the performers, calling for great sensitivity at both ends of the dynamic scale, not least fluid and volatile legerdemain in the finale and the most extreme concentration in the passacaglia slow movement. Pressler and his colleagues fully justified their unusually slow speed here, the elegiac core of the work; in this performance it flowered gradually and organically in one extended breath rather like a giant water-lily extending very gradually to its full size and glory in the midday sun before reversing the process.

The concert opened with the third of Beethoven’s Op.1 Piano Trios, music which seems second nature to these players whose mastery of classical gesture and rhetoric shone effortlessly through in all four movements (despite a minor slip in the first movement’s exposition), the more trance-like episodes of the slow movement variations and the Minuet coming off particularly effectively.

Wrapping up with the ferociously sardonic Allegro con brio of Shostakovich’s Second Trio, played for all it is worth, and the fourth movement of Dvorák’s Dumky (done with great affection) as encores, the concert was an unofficial celebration of Pressler’s taste and musicality which influences and underscores proceedings without ever insisting or dominating. A real case of Art concealing Art.

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