Review: Menahem Pressler; Piano Recital; Aldeburgh Festival; Snape; June13

Menahem Pressler, 89 this year is a pianistic legend, not least for over half a century as pianist with the celebrated Beaux Arts Trio.

His recital began with Mozart’s free-standing Rondo in A minor K511, not flawlessly played but with many engaging moments.

Beethoven’s so called ‘Tempest’ sonata op 31 no 2 opened with a stately arpeggio but the succeeding Allegro was both speedy and stormy. Occasionally the left hand seemed to dominate at the expense of the fight but the turbulent atmosphere was perfectly captured. This was followed by a searching and poetical reading of the slow movement, more tender and moving than it often is and the galloping rhythms of the finale rounded off a deeply satisfying performance

Two works of Chopin completed the first half, a gentle nocturne and the third Ballade. The Ballade’s opening section had an elegant grace and Pressler captured the mystery of the central chromatic section. Even if the semiquaver runs were not always as clear and even as they might have been his technique and vision brought the piece to a rousing conclusion.

The second half opened with the world premiere of Impromptu – al ongerese written for Menahem Pressler by Gyorgy Kurtag. Like much of Kurtag’s music it is highly compressed and aphoristic and not easy to evaluate on first hearing but its dedicatee gave an impeccable performance.

It was sobering to reflect that Schubert was barely one third of the pianist’s age when he was cut down, shortly after completing his wonderful Bflat sonata. Once again, Pressler’s wisdom and experience came to the fore, particularly in the development section of the first movement where some of the remarkable harmonic shifts were pointed up to great effect. His refined touch produced some gloriously ethereal sounds in the closing bars of the slow movement and the scherzo and finale skipped along with a lithe energy. Remarkable.

Gareth Jones