Of all the so-called minimalists working today, John Adams is the only one with any good ideas left. Witness this delightful release. The key to Adams's creativity is that he isn't bound by theoretical constraints on what "minimalism" should be. Century Rolls (1995) is a commission by Emanuel Ax, and it was inspired by the composer's listening to a CD recording of an ancient player piano.
The prize here is the Rachmaninoff cello sonata, a warm, hyper-Romantic musical tapestry that gives both the pianist and cellist a major workout. Ma is a superb chamber-music player, as is Ax. Both offer the kind of artistic give-and-take that a great performance of this music requires, while neither weighs the music down with excessive indulgence. The Prokofiev, a very different sort of musical beast, is a much lighter work, but it's done no less well. This is one of Ma's best chamber-music discs.
While it is pleasurable to hear three of the world's best-known virtuosos playing together with such extraordinary sympathy and enthusiasm, the actual performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Emanuel Ax on this disc of Mendelssohn's two piano trios are merely so-so. Each alone sounds marvelous Perlman with his sweet intonation, Ma with his lyrical phrasing, and Ax with his sonorous tone but together they are not quite the sum of their parts.
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) inhabits a "sound world" uniquely his own: moody, harmonically complex, sometimes neurotically so, melodically elusive. Less readily accessible than either of his French contemporaries, Debussy and Ravel, Faure's chamber music, nonetheless, is infinitely rewarding and certainly should be more widely recorded and available.
This remarkably rich offering of Faure's only two piano quartets (in C Minor, Op. 15 and G Minor, Op. 45) will, no doubt, go a long way in re-energizing interest in this coupling of the composer's most "popular" ensemble works.