Beaux Arts Trio Final Tour at WMCT reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, April 10, 2008. Walter Hall, Toronto.

53 years after founding the Beaux Arts Trio, one of the great chamber ensembles of this or any era, pianist Menahem Pressler, his Trio colleagues, violinist Daniel Hope and cellist, Antonio Meneses, are making the Trio’s farewell tour.

The Toronto programme consisted of two of the most beautiful pieces you’d ever hope to hear, Beethoven’s “Archduke” and Schubert’s Op.100. Pressler is pictured here introducing the third piece, “Work For Piano Trio” by his friend Gyorgy Kurtag. We see Pressler cautioning the audience that the piece is a kind of meditation, as demanding for audience as it is for the players, and if we listen carefully, we might gain some insight into our selves, and if we miss it, they will have to play it again. The piece is a series of tone sequences that the instruments played solo, duo, and trio, the notes, as it were, suspended in silence. The audience listened, and there was no need to repeat it.

The Trio glided through the “Archduke” as smoothly as a canoe over the reflections of spruce in the waters of a deep lake. Pressler conducts from the piano, caring deeply about the music, his face as sensitive as his fingers, his expressions feeding and being fed by the energy of his colleagues. Daniel Hope played his violin with short strokes, almost without vibrato but sweetly, with perfect control, and always in agreement with Meneses’ cello.

In the dirge that followed the leisurely piano solo of the third movement, the strings generated an unheard of sense of tenderness and rest that the piano swept into a dance during a finale that was a playful exchange of carefree imitations among all three players.

Schubert’s “Piano Trio in E Flat Major, D 929″ received it’s first enthusiastic review a month after his death in the autumn of 1828. The reviewer wrote:” It is no ordinary spirit that speaks to us from it; it is new, original, great, strange, penetrating, powerful and tender….”

The mood throughout is elegiac, even nostalgic, poignant with a sense of drama that is weirdly enhanced by the cyclical reappearance of a haunting theme based on a Swedish song “See the Sun Go Down” Schubert had heard in Vienna a year before his death. As if moving to the simultaneous rhythms of life and death, there is a beat and a melody that are taken alternately by the piano and the strings: the mind cannot tell which is more compelling, the melody or the beat. The music moves between elegy, march and dance, between major and minor keys. The times alternate between 6/8, 2/2 and 2/4, but the tempo remains constant.

The music competes with itself, increasing in velocity towards the finale where dramatic conflicts disintegrate into a comic harmony and a cathartic apotheosis.

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