By Hannah Rahimi and Kali Halapua
The 86 year-old Menahem Pressler appeared last night at Pollack Hall before a packed house of appreciative musicians and music lovers. A generous performer, Pressler smiled throughout the evening, possessed with a twinkling energy that fueled his playing and spread throughout the audience. Well-programmed, the concert consisted of Dvorak’s Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, performed with the Cecilia String Quartet, McGill’s graduate quartet in residence, followed by Schubert’s beloved “Trout” quintet, performed with McGill faculty members, Jonathan Crow (violin), Douglas McNabney (viola), Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Ali Yazdanfar (double bass).
The young Cecilia Quartet presented an elegant interpretation of Dvorak’s lyrical, folk-inspired work, to a standing ovation. They showed their best in the livelier moments of the piece, displaying an impressive unity of expression and articulation. At times, their phrasing and melodic contrasts could have been more strongly emphasized to give the piece a greater intensity. Pressler’s exquisite phrasing stood out; he transformed the piece with melodic expression that seemed as natural as breathing.
After intermission, the performance of the Trout quintet exemplified the best of chamber music with highly responsive, nuanced playing. Crow displayed his remarkable sense of phrasing and tone, enjoying a brilliant rapport with Pressler. The blend of sound between Crow, McNabney, Haimovitz and Yazdanfar was beautifully rich and varied.
Watching Pressler interact with the other performers was a reminder of the pure joy that can arise from playing chamber music. Music appears to be an energizing force that has carried Pressler through 86 years with no sign of slowing down.