MENDELSSOHN: Piano Trios 1&2, Opp. 49 &66

Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma
Stereophile Magazine

By Edith Eisler

Itzhak Perlman, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Emanuel Ax, piano
Sony Classical 88697 52192 2 (CD). 2010. Steven Epstein, prod.; Richard King, eng.

When superstars unite in a musical collaboration, the result is always extraordinary, and this recording is no exception. These three players put their instrumental and tonal masteries entirely at the service of the music. Merging, but not submerging, their powerful personalities in mutual supportiveness, they achieve incredible unanimity of expression and homogeneity of execution; this is truly a "civilized discourse between friends," as chamber music has been described. Ma and Ax, longtime partners, seem to think, feel, and breathe as one, and though this is their first recording with Perlman, he fits into the ensemble like a glove on the hand. (To celebrate Mendelssohn's 200th birthday, they performed these trios together last March, and will repeat them in a live telecast next May.)

The performance recorded here is as close to ideal as can be imagined. From the very beginning-Ma's somberly subdued, pensive statement of Op.49's opening theme it is clear that the players are putting their own stamp on these familiar masterpieces. Written at the height of Mendelssohn's compositional maturity, they not only encompass a wide emotional range, but also offer plenty of opportunities for bravura display. Yet the players never call attention to themselves or their consummate virtuosity. Their tempi are moderate with time to linger over significant details; they meticulously observe dynamics, phrasing, and articulation; and they make the melodies soar.

They bring out the works' passion, drama, lyricism, poetry, and elfin lightness; their liberties are poised, judicious, and always sound spontaneous. Even the balance is admirable, both between the pianist's hands and-a rare feat-among the instruments, with melodic lines carefully weighted and interwoven. (In Op.66, the piano is sometimes too prominent, proving that Mendelssohn wrote for his own famously brilliant technique, but not for today's grand piano.) Best of all, these superstars project an infectious enjoyment of the music and each other's company.

To say that the recorded sound does full justice to the players' tones-Perlman's glorious, luxurious vibrancy, Ma's dark, sonorous warmth, and Ax's singing, nuanced touch-is high praise indeed. This recording will make the world's music lovers very happy.