Saturday 9 November 2013

A new BIS release from Menahem Pressler in music by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin that will be welcomed by his many admirers as well as those that admire fine musicianship

The name Menahem Pressler will surely always be associated with the famous Beaux Arts Trio of which he was pianist and founding member. Yet it was as a solo pianist that he made his name after winning first prize at the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946.

Born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1923, Pressler fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and emigrated to Israel. He followed his success in the Debussy International Piano Competition with his successful American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. Since then, Pressler’s extensive tours of North America and Europe have included performances with the orchestras of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco, London, Paris, Brussels, Oslo, Helsinki and many others.

After nearly a decade of an illustrious solo career, the 1955 Berkshire Music Festival saw Menahem Pressler’s debut as a chamber musician, where he appeared as pianist with the Beaux Arts Trio. Along with violinist Daniel Hope and cellist Antonio Meneses, the Beaux Arts Trio became one of the world’s most celebrated piano trios. 

The 2007-2008 season saw the Beaux Arts Trio take their final bows marking the end of one of the most celebrated and revered chamber music careers of all time. However, as sad as it was to see the end of an era of such fine chamber music making, it also marked the beginning of another with Pressler continuing to travel the world performing, both as piano soloist and collaborating chamber musician with the Juilliard, Emerson, American, and Cleveland Quartets, among many others. 

Of his recent solo performance in Austria, Die Presse wrote: ‘…he struck a tone that was long believed lost already, a tone we perhaps last heard from Wilhelm Kempff.’

Menahem Pressler is currently Distinguished Professor of Music as the Charles Webb Chair at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. In addition to teaching his private students at Indiana University, he continuously presents master classes throughout the world, and continues to serve on the juries of many major international piano competitions.

Pressler has received honorary doctorates from the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Nebraska, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the North Carolina School of the Arts, six Grammy nominations (including one in 2006), lifetime achievement awards from Gramophone magazine and the International Chamber Music Association, Chamber Music America’s Distinguished Service Award, the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters. He has also been awarded the German Critics ‘Ehrenurkunde’ award, and election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 2007 Pressler was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in recognition of a lifetime of performance and leadership in music. In 2005 Pressler received two additional awards of international merit: the German President’s Deutsche Bundesverdienstkreuz (German Cross of Merit) First Class, Germany’s highest honour, and France’s highest cultural honour, the Commandeur in the Order of Arts and Letters award.  His more recent honours and awards include the prestigious Wigmore Medal (2011), the Menuhin Prize given by the Queen of Spain (2012), inductions into the American Classical Music and Gramophone Magazine Halls of Fame (2012), and the Music Teachers National Association Achievement Award.

In addition to recording nearly the entire piano chamber repertoire with the Beaux Arts Trio on the Philips label, Menahem Pressler has compiled over thirty solo recordings, ranging from the works of Bach to Ben Haim.

Menahem Pressler now features on a new release from BIS Records where he plays music by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.

BIS 1999

Pressler shows a lovely precise touch in the opening Moderato cantabile molto espressivo of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat major, Op.110 (1821) building to some fine, powerful climaxes. There is a presence here in the more thoughtful moments that make the playing seem just right, an unprepossessing approach that lets the music unfold naturally. His touch is often crystalline and pure and climaxes never forced. There is a lovely transition into the Allegro molto where there is no shortage of drama with Pressler making the most of the changes in dynamics. The Adagio ma non troppo is beautifully done, so well formed as it leads into the melody proper, a haunting theme in this pianist’s hands. He shows a quiet directness when the Fuga (Allegro ma non troppo) arrives. There is a lovely rubato giving a lovely ebb and flow and some impressively majestic louder phrases as the Fuga progresses. He highlights beautifully the counter rhythms of the Fuga with the pealing motif before a grand triumphant coda.

The Molto moderato of Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat major, D.960 (1828) is taken at a fairly slow pace but Pressler knows just how to build the texture and dynamics gradually as the music rises from a quietly tentative opening to something much more. Often there is an intimacy here, as though there is a great story teller at work, always holding back elements of the dramatic narrative. Each time the main theme returns, Pressler adds subtly to the drama. It is wonderful how Pressler reveals so many little details that weave their way throughout the music.

Pressler brings a darkness to the opening of the Andante Sostenuto, a slow faltering tempo. When the music lightens, he gives a lovely flowing, forward momentum that still retains elements of the melancholy opening. How naturally he returns to the opening tempo. When the light emerges in the Allegro vivace con delicatezza Pressler still retains a carefully controlled pace, with a nicely sprung trio section.

With the Allegro man non troppo, this pianist allows the music to lightly dance ahead. Real fire and drama are brought to the emotional outbursts of this movement with lovely control of dynamics and some beautifully fluent playing. The brisk coda brings a totally satisfyingly conclusion.

I found this an intensely affecting performance, full of so many insights.

Pressler chooses to play Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth. (1830) as a form of encore. It is a beautifully paced performance with a breadth and nobility to the playing. A lovely performance.

It doesn’t need stating that Menahem Pressler is a fine artist and this new release only confirms his fine artistry. With a first rate recording made at Potten Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England and excellent booklet notes from Malcolm MacDonald, this disc will be welcomed by his many admirers as well as those that admire fine musicianship.

BIS, could we please have more from this fine pianist.

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