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Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax

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ISAAC STERN, JAIME LAREDO, YO-YO MA, AND EMANUEL AX

This chamber recital corrals four heavyweights for a conventional survey of the evolution of the piano quartet. All four have played together often (as a marketing creation of the honchos at Sony), but at their last ensemble appearance in Chicago, four seasons ago, it was quite obvious that violinist Isaac Stern, though still exuberant after six decades in the business, was having a bit of trouble with intonation and phrasing. Violist Jaime Laredo, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Emanuel Ax gamely tried to cover, but while the performances had plenty of joie de vivre, they weren't the top-notch interpretations you'd expect. (On the Sony CD that came of them, the playing sounds almost flawless technically, but it may have benefited from splicing and other technological wonders.) So what might a concertgoer get from this go-round? First off, there's no doubt that Ma and Ax are at the peak of their form right now. The busy Ma--who's been at the Symphony Center twice already this season and will return again next month--plays more soulfully than ever, teasing clean, lush, exquisitely timed sounds from his instrument. Ax, though his approach is a bit timid at times, knows how to make the keyboard sing. Laredo has always been sturdy support, and tends to rise to the level of his comrades. This leaves Stern as the wild card. The program includes Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor, Schumann's in E-flat Major, and Brahms's no. 3 in C Minor. Wednesday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jaime Laredo photo by Christian Steiner; Emanual Ax photo by Jenny Bauerman.

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