Pressler plays Mozart with ISO 

At 92, famed founder of the Beaux Arts Trio makes his ISO debut

****1/2
click to enlarge IU veteran pianist Menahem Pressler
  • IU veteran pianist Menahem Pressler

He makes his way on stage using a cane and with assistance by guest conductor Roberto Abbado. Diminutive veteran pianist, Menahem Pressler, who was 92 on Dec. 16, 2015-- a founding member and for decades the sole pianist of the world famed Beaux Arts Trio and 60-year faculty member of the IU Jacobs School of Music--made his very first appearance as an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra soloist on Saturday. His work: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595 (1791), written in the last year of his life.

K. 595 is the last in a long line of piano concerto masterpieces Mozart left us. It has an autumnal, smile-through-tears quality, quoting passages from his earlier written 40th and 41st symphonies. The slow movement, a Larghetto, is "supremely" wistful, conveying an emotion not equaled by anything else in the piano concerto genre. What the first movement quotes, the Finale anticipates with a secondary passage which Brahms dominates in the Finale of his Second Piano Concerto.

Hearing Pressler play this work creates a different experience from what you hear from anyone else you've encountered. He plays softly and slowly throughout, though he is not covered by the orchestra (kudos to Abbado for tending to his dynamics). Pressler uses lots of pedal, burying some notes in his passage work. Yet, his control of nuance is remarkable, rendering the account among the most musical I've heard. No flash--no dash--just recreating Mozart as he might wish for the work. The huge standing ovation actually brought forth a Pressler encore: a Chopin prelude, also sad and yearning in its delivery.

Abbado began the concert with Brahms' Tragic Overture, Op. 81, one which he wrote, obvously enough, for "tragedy." However, it always comes across as dramatic rather than tragic. Certainly Abbado's energetic pace enhanced its dramatic qualities in what must be described as a wholly successful reading.

click to enlarge Guest conductor Roberto Abbado
  • Guest conductor Roberto Abbado

The program ended with Schumann's Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61 (1846)--actually the third symphony he wrote chronologically, preceded by his First and the first version of his Fourth (both appreaing in 1841). Op. 61 is unusual in running its two middle movements retrograde from common practice: a Scherzo followed by an Adagio, the two most interesting movements of the four.

Abbado held his strings together as they traveled a mile a minute through the Scherzo, marked Allegro vivace, with perhaps insufficient slowing for the "trio" section. The third movement, an Adagio espessivo, filled with yearning expressiveness, is the finest slow movement Schumann wrote. Our conductor and orchestra wove their way through its themes with playing as expressive as the movement portends. May 7

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