The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Composer: Beach, Smith

American composer Amy Beach’s main source of inspiration was middle-period Brahms. However, there is not the slightest hint of his Piano Quintet in her own 1907 contribution to the genre, rather half-reminiscences of his more lyrically inclined piano quartets and trios, flavoured by passing references to Dvo?rák, Franck and Schumann. Cast in three movements of almost equal length (nine to ten minutes each on this recording), Beach’s Quintet is expertly scored and structured, if lacking in the distinctive individuality of the aforementioned. That said, the members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society (the Escher Quartet and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott), play with such radiant sincerity and consummate skill, sumptuously captured by the CMS engineers, that any magpie-like borrowings are quickly forgotten.

Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman by Alan Louis Smith (b.1955) for mezzo-soprano, piano, violin and cello, sets a series of texts taken from the journal written by prospector Margaret Frink in 1850 as she journeyed west across the United States, bound for California and gold. Smith adopts a Britten-like style of declamation, so that at times (especially given the chamber scoring) one can almost imagine mezzo Stephanie Blythe as the governess in The Turn of the Screw. Violinist Ani Kavafian and cellist Priscilla Lee play their respective parts with keen sensitivity and tonal allure, and the recording is once again first class.