The Strad Issue: December 2014
Description: A veteran of one of the great chamber ensembles still going strong at 90
Musicians: Ebène Quartet, Benjamin Berlioz (double bass) Menahem Pressler (piano)
Composer: Dvorák, Schubert
Recorded live in Paris, this memorable tribute to long-time Beaux Arts Trio pianist Menahem Pressler captures the nonagenarian’s inimitable velvet touch and expressive warmth at an age when most of us would be relieved to be still playing at all. A shade more presence from the piano would have provided the musical icing on the cake, although this is to carp in the face of music-making of rapt intensity. Rarely have the haunting opening phrases of the Dvorák been so perceptively shaped or the decorative fancy of Schubert’s famous ‘Die Forelle’ theme and variations sounded so playfully effervescent.
The Ebène Quartet (with guest bassist Benjamin Berlioz in the Schubert) plays with commendable alertness and meticulous attention to balance of ensemble, ensuring that these are no mere ‘star’ vehicles but fully fledged performances worthy of the occasion. It is particularly fascinating to encounter this meeting of two musical worlds – Pressler a distinguished exponent of the 19th-century cantabile tradition, instinctively drawn to the long, singing line, and the Ebène’s more contemporary textural clarification and dynamic detailing that takes nothing for granted. It’s a combination that on this occasion proves deeply satisfying.