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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, D.667 ‘Trout’ (1819)
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D.821 (version for cello and piano) (1824)
Emanuel Ax (piano)
Members of the Guarneri Quartet with Julius Levine (double bass) - Trout
Lynn Harrell (cello), James Levine (piano) – Arpeggione
Recorded 1984 and 1976 (no other information) DDD/ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 55270-2 [64’53]


There is no shortage of excellent budget-priced Trouts in the catalogue, most notably from Richter and the Borodins on EMI Red Line, The Schubert Ensemble on Hyperion’s Dyad series, Ian Brown and the Nash Ensemble on IMP, Jando and the Kodalys on Naxos and Curzon and his Vienna colleagues on Decca. This is just a small cross-section of the dozens available, so this analogue re-issue from RCA would have to be pretty special to find its place.

Whilst I cannot, in all honesty, say that I heard any special insights that would raise this version above the others listed above, it is, nevertheless, a very pleasing and musically satisfying rendition. Ax and his collaborators deliver a version of this much-loved work that is strong on energy and vitality, if a little lacking in poetry and grace. The opening A major arpeggio on the piano sets the tone – this is a Beethovenian flourish, with muscle rather than Viennese charm. Ax’s no-nonsense way with the second subject also dusts down a few cobwebs, but a quick comparison with Curzon shows it to be slightly perfunctory and a little four-square in its phrasing.

The players do show a degree of flexibility in the lovely andante, but the edge of aggression returns in the scherzo, which is certainly a true presto but lacks a touch of give and take. The famous variation movement comes off well, with the rapport between strings and piano probably at its best here. A strong, vibrant finale completes an invigorating reading that will please those who like a strong, up-front approach to this music. The recording is analogue and has plenty of body, but is balanced in favour of the strings, with subsequent loss of some piano detail.

Harrell and Levine’s Arpeggione is a delight, with warm, rounded tone and playing of great variety and colour. They search out nuances without losing energy or distorting the phrasing. The sound is digital and excellent. Like the Trout, there is no shortage of serious competition in this piece, but it completes a good budget disc which, if you were to purchase on impulse, would certainly not disappoint.

Tony Haywood



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