Asked to provide a capsule characterization of the Beethoven trios as opposed to the many other fine ones that the Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio performed, Isaac Stern offered the summation that "Beethoven is constantly driving himself and his performers in a way unknown to any other composer. There is none of the romantic levity one finds in the works of others. He is always deadly in earnest, even when introducing a lighter touch for contrast….."Irving Kolodin
The History of the Trio goes back to the year 1950. The place was Prades in the eastern Pyrenees in France. The occasion was a festival commemorating the bicentenary of J.S. Bach's death. The focus of the event was Pablo Casals, who had, through the persuation of Alexander Schneider, agreed to lead the festival and make music again after a self-imposed exile, assumed final.Eugene Istomin
…I have 5 complete sets of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas, and I have derived as much pleasure from Stern/Istomin as from any of the others. Indeed, I think it is more profound than the much heralded Dumay/Pires collaboration, and it doesn't give up much in sound quality to that one, either. As with Stern's second recording of the Beethoven Concerto with Barenboim, Stern had much new to say about this composer in the later stage of his career.
This set is, indeed, complete, including as it does the six standard trios as well as the op. 11 work that Beethoven originally wrote for a clarinet, but later arranged for violin. The performances were, to judge from viewing, given exclusively for video, no audience evidently being present. The third of the op. 1 set and op.11 are in black and white; everything else is color. Throughout, the picture quality is excellent. The mono sound, however, is disappointing for the vintage: somewhat brittle in the piano and shrill in the violin. Much of this can be corrected with good tone controls, however. Prior to filming these performances, this triumvirate recorded studio versions of these works that were widely admired. Nearly all of what is offered here is in the same class: well-organized, vibrant readings attuned to the wit, drama, and lyricism of these remarkable scores. Everything in op. 1 works well, as does the violin version of op. 11. The two trios in op. 70 are, of course, studies in contrast—No. 1 comprising some of the most explosive chamber music that Beethoven ever composed, No. 2 more lyrical and experimental, its eerie opening being a case in point. Both works are impressively played, No.1 (“Ghost”) projected with thrilling energy and spooky delicacy.
Chamber Music seems so right during the boisterous mechanics of the holidays and one sure respite from the garish noise of the external season can be found in works like the Mendelssohn Piano Trios.
Here Eugene Istomin, Leonard Rose, Isaac Stern perform Piano Trios 1 and 2 in a manner that bespeaks camaraderie of the performers as well as a complete respect for these luminous works. Some have called these works piano sonatas with obbligato and while for this listener that is an unfair judgment, Eugene Istomin plays the piano part with enough flair and thoughtful propulsion that he does at times sound the more important. But that is Mendelssohn's writing and not a self-aggrandizement of a pianist.
The overall sound is simply superb. These two trios are some of the loveliest ever written from that era and the gentlemen performing them offer sophisticated and informed interpretations. The recording is excellent, the music is rarefied! Highly recommended.
– Amazon.com [5-star] reviewer
In the age of Argerich, who brings tightrope-walker tension to chamber music, I doubt that anyone plays the Brahms piano trios with the kind of mellow lushness heard here. Katchen's conception of Brahms was large-scaled but smooth, warm without much psychological struggle. Suk was a honey-toned violinist, and although Starker was the modernist among the three, what's notable here is how perfectly in unison he is with Suk (and blissfully in tune). Decca puts the piano in the middle and the string players close up in their own channels left and right. The result is wide-screen and artificial, of course, since it makes the cello sound as loud as the piano. but the sonic effect is quite luscious.
I've saved my remarks about te interpretations for last. The Brahms trios have attracted great collaborations, and I wouldn't place this one above, say, Istomin-Stern-Rose although it runs ahead of the Beaux Art Trio, for sheer beauty of tone if nothing else. The shortcoming here is a tendency toward cautiousness; these are middle-of-the-road readings that don't capture Brahms' deepest passions. He is placed in the sun too often. But the first two trios aren't sturm and drang works. If you want large-scale performances caught in gorgeous sound, here you go.
–Amazon.com [4 stars] reviewer