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Beaux Arts Trio Farewell

Beethoven Variations in G Op. 121a 'Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu'
Beethoven Piano Trio in B flat Op. 97 'Archduke'
Encores: Shostakovich scherzo and Beethoven slow movements of Op. 11

Wigmore Hall, Monday 19 November 2007


This lunchtime concert was an ideal farewell programme for Menahem Pressler, rounded off with well chosen encores to long remember. I have been listening to the Beaux Arts with the various permutations of his trio through most of the 50 years of their existence.

I have always relished Pressler's attentiveness to his colleagues, turning to look towards them more than down at the keyboard. He was continually alert to the exact sound he wanted from this Steinway in this hall, and the audience hung on every phrase. Balance with the strings and between them was fine (Daniel Hope the more forceful, but cellist Antonio Meneses always there and secure) and these were as good accounts of these works as you'd ever need to hear. The devilish Shostakovich movement was a shock after the magisterial expansiveness of the Archduke, but order and calm was restored with the beautiful slow movement of Beethoven's clarinet trio.

I write this whilst listening to the grossly degraded transmission on Radio 3 Listen Again. Gramophone (Letters p.8-9 December 2007) reminds us in Radio mezzo-forte that the station's transmissions subtly compress the signal so that everything below mezza-forte is "gently made louder", and a build up to fortissimo "never gets louder - it just becomes more congested". Additionally, I find that there is palpable distortion, particularly of piano tone.

I have taken this up with the BBC previously to no joy, pointing out that some other radio stations abroad are not equally guilty. As of this moment, I am turning off the delightful Kakadu Variations, with the "outrageous joke" of its portentous introduction giving way to a simple street song (Misha Donat) - a possible model for Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Song ?

What is coming through is a sad travesty of the subtle dynamic control that everyone in Wigmore Hall heard.

If you were there, don't Listen Again on R3; if not, don't bother to... Play some of the CDs, and hope for a DVD as an enduring memento of the live concert experience before the Beaux Arts finally disbands next summer.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/BeauxArtsTrio06.htm

and http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd/meneseswyss.html