Following Kristallnacht the German-born pianist Menahem Pressler and his immediate family, who were Jewish, fled Nazi Germany, initially to Italy, and then to Palestine. Pressler’s grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all died in concentration camps. And yet in spite of that unspeakable tragedy I think it’s fair to say that remembering people who have passed prompts a special flush of warmth if you can remember them with humour. In the case of Pressler, who has died at the age of 99, the event was a luncheon in honour of the Beaux Arts Trio, which was founded on 1955. Those present included violinist Isidore Cohen, the cellists Bernard Greenhouse and Peter Wiley (who had just taken over from Greenhouse) and Menahem himself. We were chatting about advertising and I quoted the current HMV retail add that promoted a picture of Beethoven wearing a set of headphones, the top of the page bearing the fabled (apocryphal) Beethoven quote ‘In Heaven I shall Hear ….’ (Beethoven speaking to Goethe in 1812 apparently). At the bottom of the page, the somewhat glib but funny punchline ran ‘ …. But you don’t have to wait that long – visit HMV!’ I shall never forget Menahem’s reaction (he ROARED). Some years later I spent a wonderful afternoon with him and his delightful manager, the equally wonderful Annabelle Weidenfeld. Anecdotes were plentiful including the occasion when Menahem sought advice from the legendary pianist Artur Schnabel. ‘What do you want to play?’ Schnabel asked. ‘Debussy,’ replied Pressler. ‘Debussy?’ waved Schnabel as if the music was hardly worth bothering about. Although a formidable solo pianist early on (his LPs for MGM are highly rated and many, many years later he made a CD of Debussy’s music), it’s as the Beaux Arts’ musical bedrock that he will be most fondly remembered. Those records (reissued some years ago as 60 cds in a box) are true benchmarks, much as the contemporaneous recordings by the Amadeus Quartet. How lucky we are to have them as reference points, with Menahem Pressler as a guiding light for the Trio. God rest him.

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