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It was thrilling to hear the fiery and passionate playing of the Beaux Arts Piano Trio on October 11, in Owens Auditorium on the campus of Sandhills Community College, near Pinehurst. The Classical Concert Series could not have opened its season more auspiciously. The Beaux Arts Trio debuted on July 13, 1955, and has been a benchmark for much of their tenure. Since the beginning, pianist Menahem Pressler has been the constant anchor while his two colleagues have changed a number of times. When last reviewed in Pinehurst, the ensemble seemed rather bland and tepid, perhaps reflecting a quick succession of violinists. Well, with the addition of violinist Daniel Hope, the spirit of the group has jelled, and they once again set standards of technical perfection and musical insight with which to be reckoned.
There was nothing mater-of-fact about the opening measures of Beethoven's Trio in D, Op. 70, No. 1 ("Ghost"). In the assertive start, Antonio Meneses' full, robust cello sang out, soon followed by Hope's sweet-toned violin. The instruments were precisely together, and the balances were perfect (and remained so throughout the entire program). When called for, string phrasing was exactly matched. A wide variety of dynamic nuances made for a maximum of expressivity. The rugged vigor of Beethoven was fully realized. The nickname "Ghost" alludes to the eerie, hushed, slow second movement, in which the Beaux Arts team conjured up an ominous world of shadows. With Halloween so near, this was an inspired choice.
The Classical Concert Series audience is conservative in its tastes so some may have been less than appreciative of the Beaux Arts Trio's magnificent traversal of Dmitri Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67, one of the two finest piano trios of the 20th century (Ravel's is the other). Both Hope's and Meneses' intonation were astonishingly exact in the exposed high harmonics that abound in the piece. Pressler's supreme mastery was evident as he projected a full palette of piano tone color without ever covering the strings. A Steinway different from the usual instrument had been rented, and it seemed superior to the regular model. The frenzied scherzo was dogged; its darker meaning was hammered home by the composer's instructions to the strings, " marcatissimo, pesante ," to be played with heaviness or ponderousness. The Largo was mournful and wrenching. Most devastating of all was the concluding movement. According to Ian MacDonald, in The New Shostakovich , the harsh Jewish melody that dominates the fast portion was inspired "... by stories that SS guards had made their victims dance beside their own graves."
No one could have been displeased with the delights of the beloved "Dumky" Trio of Dvorák, with its alternation of slow and fast music. The Beaux Arts Trio phrased this with unerring wit and charm. Extended piano solos showcased Pressler's mastery of tone and color.
After a well-deserved standing ovation, the Trio gave a delicious encore from the vast repertoire of Haydn piano trios. Music lovers will be forever in debt for the Beaux Arts Trio's pioneering recording of all of Haydn's trios. Instead of the usual "Rondo all'Ongarese" (the Presto from Trio No. 25, in G, that everyone does), they chose the final Allegro from Trio No. 18 in A, which has a charming rhythmic drive. Let us hope that they will program an entire Haydn trio when they return to the Piedmont.