« Organist honors Olivier Messiaen centennial in style | Main | Needing a little Christmas »

November 30, 2008

Octogenarian pianist proves value of experience

Menahem PresslerThe issue of change vs. experience has been having quite a political workout lately. I thought of that issue in musical terms last night as Menahem Pressler gave a recital for Candlelight Concerts at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia. (This was my first dose of music in several days. I took some time off for Thanksgiving, which explains the paucity of blog entries -- sorry for that drought, my valued cyber-public.)

At 85, this exceptional keyboard artist and pedagogue is clearly a voice of experience, and that's what came through most strongly as Pressler delved into weighty sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert and highly coloristic pieces by Debussy. Other players, especially less seasoned ones, might be more inclined to change things, trying out different tempos or phrasing in an effort to put a firm, personal stamp on the music. Pressler stayed the course, letting the composers speak clearly and straightforwardly, an approach that held substantial rewards.

Technically, the pianist was not always impeccable. The faster, more furious passages of Beethoven's Op. 110 and Schubert's profound B-flat Major Sonata, D. 960, contained various smudges and occasional awkwardness. But the lyrical side of those works emerged beautifully and meaningfully. The second movement of the Schubert score, in particular, was shaped with an exquisite touch. Pressler, best known for his 53 years as founding pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, also offered some wonderful tone coloring along the way, especially in the delicate, upper-register reaches in the finale of that Schubert sonata, as well as in the subtly evocative Pagodes and Soiree dans Grenade from Debussy's Estampes. And the Chopin Nocturne that Pressler offered as an encore was sculpted with a magical warmth and poetic sensitivity. Such elegant, deeply authoritative playing reaffirmed the pianist's rare and invaluable artistry.


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:04 PM | | Comments (0)

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected