A third generation of greatness in chamber music
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 12/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In whatever its incarnation--Coluumbia Records, CBS, Sony, and now BMG Sony--this company has been the mainstay of American chamber music performance. Isaac Stern was part of the first generation of musicians centered around Pablo Casals in the Fifties (he was first violin in a classic Schubert C Major Quintet from 1952, a very intense reading dominated by Casals' growling, passionate playing). The second generation centered around Rudolf Serkin at Marlboro in the Sixties and Seventies (a very fine C Major Quintet comes from that era). Now we have the third generation, which centers around Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, Emmanuel Ax, and other current stars from NY City and Marlboro.
This C Major Quintet from 1993, in excellent 20-bit sound, exhibits everything wonderful about all three generations: the selfless commitment of virtuosos to play as an ensemble, a deep respect for the score, and a sense of spontaneous joy in the playing. For those reasons alone this balanced, songful account would be treasurable. One must admit that Stern no longer plays entirely in tune, but his lapses are minor. As for the style they adopt, Stern-Ma-and-company prefer a flowing, lyrical approach quite at odds with the dug-in, intense apprach of the Alban Berg Quartet in their acclaimed recording (EMI). Personally, I htink the Americans are closer to the gentle spirit of Schubert, and there's dramatic contrast where it's needed--the ABQ are on the assault in every bar. One could live with this version for a long time without needing another. The Boccherini quintet that fills up the CD is not music I appreciate, but it is played with all the virtues found in the Schubert."