The Beaux Arts Trio was formed in 1955, and is calling it quits this summer. Throughout these decades, the ensemble has had one pianist, Menahem Pressler, born in 1923. He played a concert at Mannes College on Wednesday night. This was part of the International Keyboard Institute & Festival.
Introducing the concert, Joseph Patrych remarked that, with the Beaux Arts Trio no more, we could look forward to a long solo career from Mr. Pressler.
He was not quite solo on this occasion — for his first half, he had with him a violinist, Eugene Drucker. Mr. Drucker is no stranger to chamber music himself: He plays with the Emerson String Quartet.
This first half of the program consisted of two beloved and highly refined works: Mozart's Sonata in E minor, K. 304, and Schubert's Sonata in A, D. 574. Messrs. Pressler and Drucker began the Mozart with perfect unison. And, as they continued, you could tell that they each have spent a long time listening to other musicians, and coordinating with them.
Mr. Pressler played with his accustomed lyricism and grace. He is a refined musician for refined music. He suffered some stiffness — for example in his ornaments — but not a great deal. Mr. Drucker played with desirable simplicity and sincerity. More beauty of tone, however, would have done no harm.
And just a little flaccidity crept into this account — some sagging, and some sleepiness.
In the Schubert, the pair had another good beginning: gently rolling, and typically Schubertian. Like the Mozart, this piece demands beauty of tone from the violinist (or at least prefers it). Mr. Drucker did not make his best sound. Nonetheless, he sang admirably.
From these two players, Schubert's Scherzo was robustly playful — not terribly elegant or clean, but successful. And the subsequent movements were unobjectionable. But, again, some sleepiness settled over the room.
These sonatas are not barnburners, to be sure. But they must never lose body, or momentum, or life.
In the second half of the program, Mr. Pressler had the stage to himself — and he returned to a beloved work: beloved by him, and beloved by everyone else. This was Schubert's Sonata in B flat, D. 960. Mr. Pressler has a weakness for long Schubert pieces. (A weakness that is really a strength.) In their final New York concert last April, the Beaux Arts Trio played, not just one, but both of Schubert's trios. And D. 960 is a forever favorite.
A few seasons ago, this sonata was played in New York by four different pianists — major pianists — in the space of about a month. One of them was Mr. Pressler (as I recall).
This sonata is considered autumnal, and it is, in a way. It is certainly profound, wise, and sublime. And it has long been favored by senior pianists. But let's not forget that Franz Schubert never made it past 31.
In the first movement, Mr. Pressler demonstrated plenty of wisdom and beauty. The music was unusually small-scale, but definitely itself. There was a problem, however. Mr. Pressler went in for many pauses, fermatas, breaths, ritards, suspensions. In my view, Schubert must be allowed to talk — to flow. And, on this occasion, he was too much interrupted.
The second movement — that transcendental thing — was well managed. But, again, it could have used more of a pulse. Schubert should never turn into soup, for he is beautiful enough as he is.
In the Scherzo, Mr. Pressler was fairly crisp and lilting. As for the last movement, it was, again, small-scale — unusually Mozartean. But it had Presslerian grace and refinement. His fingers deserted him every now and then — but this mattered little.
And does anyone in the business love music more than Mr. Pressler does? His fellow pianist Jerome Rose — founder and director of this festival, as a matter of fact — once said, "Menahem, you love playing so much, you ought to pay me to hear you, rather than the other way around."
Mr. Pressler gave the warmly appreciative crowd two encores: Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth., and Brahms's "Lullaby."
Music has a great history of octogenarian and nonagenarian pianists: A short list includes Artur Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz, Shura Cherkassky, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and Earl Wild. How gratifying to have Menahem Pressler in the ranks.