This is not the first time the Tokyo String Quartet has encountered these monumental works in its 44-year history; in 1987, they recorded a set for RCA with pianist Barry Douglas. The biggest difference in this set’s Piano Quintet is the sound, a vast improvement. Pianist Jon Nakamatsu, for his part, is perhaps a tad more lyrical than Douglas.
It’s at least their third time in the studio with the Clarinet Quintet, the most famous being with Richard Stoltzman 19 years ago, and though half the TSQ’s membership has turned over since then, the interpretation hasn’t changed much; it’s become a bit more taut, with no loss in warmth of string tone. Clarinetist Jon Manasse has a bigger and darker sound than Stoltzman, which fits the music perfectly.
The standard line on this pairing is that the 1864 Piano Quintet has the fire of youth and the 1891 Clarinet Quintet the autumnal repose of age. It’s an oversimplification, for the differences come much more from the inherent qualities of the titular instruments; the strings have nearly as fiery parts in 1891 as they did in 1864, but also, in the slow movements, as much songful Romanticism both times. The TSQ honors both qualities in rich, loving interpretations.