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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, D. 929, Op. 100 (1827) [51:41]
Sonatensatz in B flat major, D. 28 (1812) [9:49]
Kungsbacka Piano Trio
rec. St George’s Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 3-4 June 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.555700 [61:29]

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I first came across the Kungsbacka Piano Trio at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 1999.  I attended a number of the heats of that competition and remember being impressed by these musicians - though I cannot remember for the life of me what they played!  They won the piano trio section of the competition and the audience choice award, but interestingly it was the second and third placed piano trios who won recording contracts with Naxos.  Neither of those ensembles seems actually to have cut a disc with Naxos - at least, there is nothing in either group’s name in the current catalogue.  Seven years later, though, the Kungsbacka have recorded an all-Schubert programme for Naxos and the disc is a winner.

Schubert’s second piano is not as easy to listen to as his first.  This is partly because of its length and partly because of the sheer wealth of melodic ideas which Schubert crams into the piece.  Here, though, it has a rare cogency and freshness, and is a delight from first note to last. 

The first movement springs into being with life and lilt.  The Kungsbacka’s ability to open the music up and keep it flowing stems from their focus on maintaining a firm pulse on the first beat of each bar, such that the flood of melodic fragments that are woven into this first movement never have a chance to untangle.  Simon Crawford Phillips must take much of the credit for this.  He never seeks to dominate the proceedings, but he binds the whole together with sparkling pianism.  His partners are similarly light in their touch, with Malin Bronman's sweet violin tone matched beautifully by the warmth of Jesper Svedberg's cello.  The second movement is given granduer by superb blending of parts.  The scherzo is all charm.  Even the finale, performed here in its extended original version, is so gorgeous, fresh and alive that you do not want it to end. 

The much earlier and less substantial piano trio movement included here as a makeweight is hardly less successful.

There are no rough edges in these performances.  Together the Kungsbackas exude lightness, charm and grace.  Dynamics are scrupulously observed, giving life and context to passages - in the first and last movements of the second piano trio in particular - which can sound repetitive when played by lesser musicians.  The Naxos recording is perfectly balanced, with violin in the left channel, cello is the right and piano positioned centre-right.  The effect is that of sitting in the best seats of a recital hall. 

Naxos' general policy is to avoid duplication in its catalogue.  Allowing the Kungsbackas to record Schubert's second piano trio seems like a departure from that policy, until one realises that this recording is intended to sit alongside the one already on the books, with the inclusion of the original finale the point of difference.  Given the brilliance of this disc, though, surely Naxos will make an exception and allow this remarkable young ensemble to record Schubert's first trio.  And, well stocked as Naxos' piano trio larder is, there are still some gaps just begging to be filled by the Kungsbackas.  How about some Joachim Raff, for example?

Tim Perry

see also Review by Göran Forsling


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