Pianist Menahem Pressler is a legend: at 17 this shooting star with a “talent for luck” won the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco (its distinguished jury included the recent French émigré Darius Milhaud). His debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was followed by an impressive international solo career and, from summer 1955 with the Beaux Arts Trio’s debut – a no less impressive career as a chamber musician. In this concert, the 90-year-old grand seigneur of the piano makes a guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, dedicated to a concerto by one of his favourite composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
On the rostrum accompanying Pressler is Semyon Bychkov, who in the programme’s second half conducts Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11. Completed in the aftermath of the suppressed Hungarian uprising, it seems to foretell a fate for the ossified Soviet Union similar to that of the ossified Russian Empire. It was Herbert von Karajan who mentioned Bychkov as a possible successor in Berlin after hearing one of his Shostakovich recordings with the Berliner Philharmoniker. “I did not experience the mass terror of the Soviet Union as Shostakovich did”, says Bychkov. “But I can nonetheless imagine the conditions under which he lived, and can identify with them.”