I remember thinking at the time that to record the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 represented the apex of my life. I still distinctly recall the summer of 1964 when I heard this masterpiece for the first time sitting in the audience as a student at the Yale Music School. Sunlight streamed through the fabulous acoustic space of the historic Shed in Norfolk, Connecticut. As my soon-to-be teacher, Keith Wilson, came on stage with the Yale String Quartet, I closed my eyes to concentrate on the music. But as I listened, waiting to hear the sound of clarinet, all I heard was this glorious sound of perfectly balanced chamber music. I opened my eyes to see what had happened to Mr. Wilson and to my astonishment he was playing -- his beautiful, full sound blending impeccably and imperceptibly with the strings -- a revelation. Violins, viola, cello, and clarinet all becoming Brahms Quintet.
My mom and dad held misgivings about my decision to stay with music. My father loved music and still kept his tenor and alto saxophones from college days. Yet his hope for me was to use school to establish myself in some sort of secure profession ("Why not dentistry, with clarinet as a fine hobby?").
So it was this star-crossed collaboration with the Cleveland, including Peter Salaff who had been my roommate in the Yale graduate school, which ultimately won over my loving mom and dad. A decade after my apotheosis with Brahms in the Shed, my parents made the journey from home in Cincinnati to the art museum concert hall in Cleveland to hear their son and the Cleveland Quartet perform Brahms to a very appreciative, attentive, and mature audience. Back stage, after this successful evening, it was the young Cleveland Quartet, and good old Johannes, who finally convinced my parents--though my dad still worried about that "security."
By the way, the autumnal scene on the cover of the LP (CD #2 in the boxed set) was captured by Dorothea V. Haeften, whose husband's quartet had been a great inspiration for the Cleveland: Arnold Steinhardt of the famed Guarneri.
© Richard Stoltzman
Recording: New York City, May 4/5, 1976
Producer: Jay David Saks
℗ 1976 Sony Music Entertainment