Menahem Pressler: Beethoven/Schubert/Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven; Schubert; Chopin
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Menahem Pressler: Beethoven/Schubert/Chopin
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 31; Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 21; Chopin: Nocturne in C sharp minor
PERFORMER: Menahem Pressler
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-1999

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Menahem Pressler turns 90 in December 2013. The career of the Beaux Arts Trio’s erstwhile pianist is beginning to resemble that of the great Mieczysaw Horszowski: like him, Pressler has devoted most of his professional life to chamber music and teaching, turning to solo performance in earnest only in his advancing years. He has always had an unmistakable sound: sparkling, limpid and full of wit and wisdom. The good news is that it is still there; and though the fingers do not always move as smoothly as they once did, spending a lifetime with the piano masterpieces pays its own dividends.

The programme on the BIS disc, with superb SACD sound, is ideal for him: late Beethoven in the form of Sonata Op. 110 and Schubert’s last Piano Sonata, D960 in B flat, plus a touching Chopin Nocturne. The cushioned clarity of Pressler’s tone suits all this wonderfully and his direct phrasing gets straight to the point. In this hallowed repertoire, spare in language and compassionate in concept, Pressler’s occasional vulnerability even adds an extra layer of humanity.

On La Dolce Volta, Pressler performs Schubert’s Sonata D894 alongside the Mozart A minor Rondo and Beethoven’s Op. 126 Bagatelles. Here it is the Beethoven that really turns up trumps – whimsical slivers of imagination that make a swift impression without time for energy to flag. This Schubert, though, sometimes feels just too laboured to take wing, especially in the finale. The CDs may not be perfect, but are valuable documents. If only he had recorded more of the solo repertoire years ago.

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Jessica Duchen