Bernard Greenhouse, RIP

Once again, The New York Times comes up trumps with a fitting obituary, this time for Bernard Geenhouse, cellist and founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, who died on Friday aged 95.

Beaux Arts Trio

Long considered the most eminent piano trio in the world, the Beaux Arts was founded in 1955 by Mr. Greenhouse, the violinist Daniel Guilet and the pianist Menahem Pressler. It was known for its refined musicality and remarkable continuity of personnel: Mr. Greenhouse, for instance, played with the group for 32 years until retiring in 1987.

The trio, which in its last incarnation comprised Mr. Pressler, the violinist Daniel Hope and the cellist Antonio Meneses, disbanded in 2008.

The quote above if from the start of the Times obituary. It’s rather sad, I suppose, but it’s difficult to think of members of successful chamber groups individually. Certainly, in the case of the Beaux Arts, for a long time it was only Menahem Pressler whose name was known to me apart from his involvement with the Trio. More recently, things happened the other way round, when I was surprised to learn that Daniel Hope, whose soloist career I was aware of, was a member.

The personnel of the Trio remained unchanged from its foundation in 1955 until 1969, when Isidore Cohen took over as violinist. It took another eighteen years before the next change happened, when Bernard Geenhouse left and was replaced by cellist Peter Wiley. In June 1992, the Trio made its debut with violinist Ida Kavafian in two extraordinary performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under Maestro Kurt Masur. Menahem Pressler created yet another legendary collaboration when he named violinist Young Uck Kim and cellist Antonio Meneses as new members in 1998. In their three seasons together, Pressler, Kim and Meneses earned highest praise from critics and audiences alike. British violinist Daniel Hope was announced as the Trio’s newest member in April 2002, after highly successful winter tours of Europe and the United States.

I’m sure we all have Beaux Arts recordings in our collections. Probably their most famous, considered by many to be a classic of the gramophone, is their set of the complete Haydn Piano Trios, recorded between 1971 and 1978. That’s certainly one of the favourites in my own collection, as is the recording of the Beethoven Triple Concerto, which dates from the time of those Leipzig performances. In the case of that work I remember thinking at the time how much more sense it made to cast an established chamber ensemble in the work rather cherry-pick high-profile soloists who almost inevitably work against rather than with one another.

I know I’ve proved my own point by going on about the Trio when it’s their original cellist who’s died, but it’s difficult not to do so. In tribute to Bernard Greenhouse (I wonder if Lyric fm are even aware of his death?), I’m off now to listen to a Haydn Piano Trio.

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