Music@Menlo Live 2009, Being Mendelssohn: Music by BACH, MOZART, MENDELSSOHN, BEETHOVEN, LIGETI, JALBERT, BRAHMS, SPOHR and SCHUMANN – St. Lawrence String Quartet, Pacifica Quartet/ Wu Han/ Arnaud Sussmann/David Finckel/ Gilbert Kalish/ Paul Neubauer/ Menahem Pressler/Eugene Drucker and too many others to mention – (6 CDs) each available separately: $17, or the six slipcased: $90, (Distr. by musicatmenlo.org/live) ****:
Recordings of Martha Argerich’s annual chamber music flings in the Swiss-Italian resort of Lugano have set the standard for boxed-set festival recordings from early in the new century, and have also become a cottage industry for EMI. They’ve been matched in recent years punch for punch by a West Coast bunch out near Stanford. Featuring a roster equal in firepower to their Lugano colleagues, Music@Menlo do the same kind of job in terms of high level performances, although the Menlo look is distinctly more hip.
Not to worry, of course, the mostly blithe and cheerful music (i.e., no gloomy Mendelssohn quartets this time) is a constant pleasure to hear. Mendelssohn’s eternally youthful and bright-eyed Octet is here, this one first-chaired by Sibbi Bernhardsson whose Pacifica Quartet contributes a crackling Beethoven 18/6. If you’re into the mordant world of Schumann, you can’t afford to miss the D Minor Trio played by Kahane, Swensen and Paul Watkins.
Top honors go to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata played by Arnaud Sussmann and Wu Han whose fierce and ardent performance will demolish equally the classical-music-innocent and those who already know better.
There’s an added bonus for audiophiles. Engineer/producer Da-Hong Seetoo, using "state-of-the-art 24-bit recording technology," shows clearly and dramatically how each of participating ensembles differ in terms of timbre and texture. It’s great material for tweaking audiophile systems.
I mentioned in my review for Strings Magazine that "The Music@Menlo web site is a lesson for entrepreneurial-minded musicians." What I meant was that the classical music industry, because of the new technologies, is offering vast expanses of new territory, in terms of markets and repertoire, and that Music@Menlo is an example of staking out classical music’s vast Western frontier. We may be seeing covered wagons soon again, though with samplers – no banjos this time!
– Laurence Vittes