Saturday, February 03, 2018

Mozart with Menahem

The New Century Chamber Orchestra presented a marvelous all-Mozart concert last Saturday in Herbst Theatre to coincide with the composer's 262nd birthday. The group was led by "Artistic Partner" Daniel Hope on violin, a superior Mozartean who captured the full range of the composer's gifts, which is surprisingly more difficult than it seems. The string ensemble was joined for this series of concerts by a small component of brass and woodwinds, starting with the Symphony #29 which Mozart wrote at the age of 18.

Hope then led the group as soloist in the Violin Concerto #3 in a performance that was meltingly beautiful. I used to obsessively listen to an old Supraphon recording of the great Czech violinist Josef Suk playing Mozart's music for violin and orchestra, and Hope's performance was at that level of expressive perfection.

After intermission, he introduced the special guest soloist of the evening, Menahem Pressler, with a moving capsule biography of the 94-year-old pianist.

Pressler and his immediate family escaped Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1936, and in 1946 he won the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco, beginning one of the longest professional music careers in history. In 1955 he founded the Beaux Arts Trio, and though there were various violinists and cellists on its roster over the years, including Daniel Hope from 2002-2008, Pressler was its sole pianist for the next 53 years. "And now that the trio has disbanded, Menahem has decided to devote more time to his solo career," Hope noted with laughter.

Pressler was the soloist for Mozart's Piano Concerto #23, and though there seemed to be a few difficulties in the first movement, by the second movement Adagio, the poetry of the playing conquered all.

Helped along by his manager Lady Annabelle above, Pressler returned twice for encores, playing Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor (posthumous) and Debussy's Reverie. It felt like an honor to be in the audience, and the standing ovations were well deserved.

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