I had already accepted this disc for review (eagerly--if the world were going down and I could
save only two composers, they would be Lassus and Brahms) when El Jefe Flegler added: "Parnassus
is the label run by out own Leslie Gerber" That gave me pause for thought: what if the disc
wasn't very good, the playing poor, the notes sloppy, the sound inadequate? The first responsibility
of any critic is to his readers, of course, so how--if the worst came to the worst--was I going to
avoid stabbing a colleague in the front? In the event, my problem is indeed something of that
nature--but precisely the other way around. This disc is so good that it might be difficult to persuade
you, dear readers, that the rave review you are about to be offered is not an example of confraternal
complicity. When 1 tell you that the notes are by Bernard Jacobson, another Fanfare colleague and
an old pal from our days in London, and that the design and layout are by ex-Fanfare writer John
Wiser, you will be highly suspicious, and justifiably so: read this review with, not a pinch, but a
handful of salt. But rave I must: this is quite simply one of the best discs of chamber music to come
my way in a long, long time.
So what is it about the performances that make them so special? A phrase from Hans Keller,
writing about Franz Schmidt's playing in the Schubert C-Major Quintet, comes to mind: "the imagination
he pumped into the notorious second-cello passages in the slow movement had to be heard to
be believed." And that is exactly what you hear in these performances: four musicians of the highest
caliber thinking deeply about what they are doing, listening, reacting to one another, giving and taking
-these are living, breathing performances. The old cliche about the string quartet being four
individuals in discussion comes to glorious life here: you can listen to any one of the lines, follow it
through its interaction with the others, jump ship from cello to viola, say--wherever you focus your
ears, you can hear the sheer amount of considered passion being put into the playing. And the control
of pitch is absolute: so many quartet recordings these days are vitiated by sloppy intonation,
even in some fairly well-known ensembles. No such worries here: even in such tricky places as the
explosive chordal sequence that opens the finale of the C-Minor work, the intonation is bang on.
I do have a criticism, you'll be relieved to read. This is not big Brahms: the Colorados don't
play him with the powerful, broad bowstrokes that would have made these performances colossal.
Instead, it's rather more delicate, more sensitive than that. This is, dare I say it, ladies' Brahms-or,
to convey more or less the same image but offending only a few million people, it's French Brahms.
Whatever the stylistic approach, though, what you hear on this disc is nothing less than exquisite
Ossa upon Pelion: the recorded sound is first-rate, and Bemard Jacobson's notes are masterly--
they combine insight and understanding within a wide frame of reference (he knows his Brahms,
this man) with an easy style that makes the technical accessible, even obvious, now that he draws
your attention to it. I learned a good deal from his essay.
It gladdened my heart, this disc. So many of the quarter recordings I get sent for review disap
point (usually, as I say, because poor intonation from one of the players--often the first violin, sur
prisingly enough-scupper the entire project at the outside). This one disappointed no whit. I have
played it again and again since it arrived, and every time it sets my musical adrenaline coursing. Do
yourself a favor and buy it.
Leslie Gerber isn't going to be short of ideas to keep the Colorado players busy, but let me
chuck one at him anyway. Their playing of the Brahms A-Minor Quartet reminded me of how much
Franz Schmidt learned from Brahms in his own two quarters--and we could certainly do with a
good modern recording of those two works. The only recent recording I know of them--by the
Franz Schubert Quartett, Wien, on Nimbus NI 5467--is exactly one of those discs where inaccurate
intonation mars the product from the outset, though here the players also misjudge the music. Ilthe
Colorados did to Schmidt what they have just done to Brahms, Parnassus would walk straight into a
thousand Want Lists.