Octogenarian pianist proves value of experience
The 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.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CANDLELIGHT CONCERTS