At 94, German-born Israeli-American pianist Menahem Pressler is a legend in the chamber music world, having led the Beaux Arts Trio from the 1950s until they disbanded in 2008. He is less well known as a soloist – he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at 90 – so his first disc after signing with the Yellow Label is cause for celebration indeed.
It is fitting that Pressler has chosen some of Claude Debussy’s most treasured works as it was winning the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco that launched his career in 1946. And his German teacher gave him the score of Reflets dans l’eau when the Pressler family fled the Nazis. That work isn’t included but several favourites are, including Clair de Lune, La Plus que Lente, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and a wonderful take on La Cathédrale Engloutie.
This is an album that you may well fall in love with. Pressler pours eight decades of distilled wisdom and experience into his performances. The limpid beauty of his opening to Arabesque No 1, the first track, sets the seal on the 67 minutes that follow. Tempos are unhurried, but never drag, and the playing is a delight from start to finish. Even with such a familiar piece as Clair de Lune we hear it as if it is fresh off the page.
As well as delectable Debussy, Pressler gives us a memorable take on Gabriel Fauré’s Barcarolle No 6 in E Flat and finishes in ravishing style by pairing Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte with Oiseaux Tristes from Miroirs.
This is an album you will go to when you feel the need for serenity or some consolation in troubled times. Pressler’s artistry and humanity shine through, and there can be fewer more beautiful tributes to Debussy in his centenary year.