Tuesday night found two-thirds of the internationally renowned Beaux Arts Trio performing a wonderful program of Beethoven's music for cello and piano in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall. Pianist Menahem Pressler and cellist Antonio Meneses began the evening with the composer's "12 Variations on 'See here the conqu'ring hero comes' from Handel's 'Judas Maccabeus.' "
This early score predates Beethoven's first cello sonatas by a few years, but it still showcases, even then, his relatively revolutionary concept of treating the cello and the piano as equal partners within a duo.
In a foreshadowing, Pressler and Meneses made their way through the variations with a blend of sensitivity and muscle, creating a sonic balance in tandem with the composer's wishes. And it got better.
Things became a bit more interesting with the third of Beethoven's cello sonatas, Op. 69 in A major. This piece was written after the three "Razumovsky" string quartets (Op. 59), just before starting to work on the fifth of his piano concertos (Op. 73) and roughly concurrent with Beethoven's score for his Symphony No. 5 (Op. 67).
In a way, the merits of his third cello sonata are almost lost in the forest of well-deserved adulation for those other giants of the literature. Still, there were plenty of delights to be heard here. As was the case throughout the evening, Meneses and Pressler brought each of the composer's phrases into focus without rushing or lingering the moment. They were darn close to perfect.
Although Beethoven did finish what would become his last pair of cello sonatas (Op. 102, No. 1 in C major and No. 2 in D major) in 1815, they and a few of his songs would prove to be his only notable output for that year. He had put some of his more burdensome fiscal problems behind him, but Beethoven was becoming increasingly deaf, and further personal problems (his brother would die later that year) were just around the corner.
Still, Beethoven managed to create gorgeous melodies to begin his penultimate cello sonatas. In particular, the allegro con brio that opens the D major sonata stands as one of the composer's most affecting, especially when delivered with the kind of power and grace displayed by Meneses and Pressler. A series of standing ovations by the nearly packed hall brought the duo out for a tasteful rendition of the first movement from Debussy's cello sonata.
Menahem Pressler, pianist, and Antonio Meneses, cellist
Presented by Buffalo Chamber Music Society on Tuesday night in Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall.