CLAIR DE LUNE
MENAHEM PRESSLER, Piano
Deutsche Grammophon 479 8756 / **1/2
The Germany-born Menahem Pressler (born 1923) is the “grand old man” of the piano. He was a founding member of the world-renowned Beaux Arts Trio in 1953 and helmed it till 2008. He still pursues an active solo performing and teaching career at the age of 94. This solo album of French piano music, recorded last year, unfortunately does his legacy scant justice.
Almost every item is played at a funereal and lugubrious tempo. Although his touch and pedalling are often exquisite, Claude Debussy’s First Arabesque, Reverie and the titular Clair de lune (from Suite Bergamasque) are so dragged out that one’s patience is tested.
The same stolidity applies to the selection of five Préludes. In Danseuses de Delphes, the sonorous chords sound strangely detached. Only in the slower-than-slow waltz La plus que lente does his expansive pacing makes perfect sense.
The recital is completed by a Gabriel Fauré Barcarolle, easily the album’s best track, and two pieces by Maurice Ravel. When Ravel quipped that the princess of his Pavane pour une infante défunte was dead, rather than the pavane, he was probably thinking of such a reading, one which stretches to nearly 8 minutes. A dispiriting showing from a great pianist.