Thursday, November 18, 2004

Hello to Berlin

Back from a delicious few days hearing and interviewing the Beaux Arts Trio in Berlin. Fascinating city, as ever; every time I go there (this was my 3rd trip in 14 months) there are new buildings to see, cranes in new places, a gleaming new century imposing itself on relics of all the others. Berlin must be the city that best encompasses the whole of 20th-century European history.

Not that I saw much of it this time, because my quarry, the trio - known pleasingly as the BAT - were far too interesting. Pianist Menahem Pressler, who is over 80, is one of my great piano heroes and the person I would most have loved to study with 20 years ago. The 'old' trio's recordings, with Isidore Cohen and Bernard Greenhouse, were among my father's favourites and we used to listen to them all the time when I was about 14, especially the Dvorak 'Dumky' Trio. I think that the sound of Pressler's playing somehow got under my skin at that time through sheer familiarity with this record, and I realise now that it's been my pianistic ideal ever since. And the Dumky was the second half of their Berlin concert.

In place of Cohen and Greenhouse the trio now has Daniel Hope and Antonio Meneses. But the piano sound is just the same - silvery, sparkly, silken joie de vivre, full of soul and humanity, from someone who should be recognised as one of the world's great pianists but, because he has played primarily in a trio for 50 years and taught devotedly in Indiana for half that time, is not sufficiently familiar to the wider public. Just a few notes into the Dvorak, I entered a time warp and found myself back in the house where I grew up, going through it room by room, object by object, and watching Dad enjoying the music... Of course, he died years ago, as did my mother, and I spent most of the trio fighting back serious lump in throat.

Almost as moving, and more astonishing, was the impression I had that Pressler and Hope, despite the 50-year difference in their ages, are somehow cut from the same spiritual cloth. Musically they were a perfect match and during the interviews each in turn seemed to be trying to win at praising the other. They are performing the Faure A major Sonata together in Paris in January and I intend to try to go. Pressler calls Dan and Antonio 'my boys', which is very sweet indeed. I sat next to Pressler at dinner and we got on wonderfully. He is just as he sounds.

Apropos de Faure, Tom and I played that same sonata in a private concert last Sunday and I thought it went pretty well. Or, to put it another way, I didn't f*** up. And Tom was excellent, despite the frustration of trying to play in tune while the piano was out of tune. The audience seemed to love it and they gave us two very nice bottles of champagne.