Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

An Introduction to … Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)’s Piano Quintet in A Major 'Trout' D667
Narration written by Jeremy Siepmann

Kodaly Quartet
Jeno Jando (piano)
Istvan Toth (double-bass)
Jeremy Siepmann (narrator)
Recorded 2002
Trout Quintet taken from Naxos 8.550658
NAXOS 8.558075-76 [75.58+68.34]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

These two well filled CDs are an attempt to explore one of the major classical works 'in an accessible and lively manner'. The discs consist of a spoken narration (written and narrated by Jeremy Siepmann) interspersed with musical examples taken from the Naxos CD of the Trout Quintet. Jeremy Siepmann's text is written with an admirable lack of jargon. But to understand the first movement of the Trout Quintet properly, one needs to know about classical sonata form. An important factor in the movement is the way Schubert plays with our expectations (based on classical sonata form) and then confounds them. During the exposition, Siepmann does take time out to illustrate Schubert's lack of modulation between key changes. But it is not until the end of the exposition that we get a discussion about key relationships. This means that early on a comment about E major being the Dominant of A major goes past without explanation. Also at this point, we get a discussion about what a development is (in the context of sonata form) and by the end of the movement we have a clearer idea about sonata form. But I cannot help feeling that it would have been useful putting some of this up-front in an introductory track. This might have seemed slightly fearsome and didactic to the uninitiated listener, but it would have prepared them for the discussion. An added advantage would have been that the experienced listener could skip over these tracks. A lot of this information is included in the excellent booklet, including a definition of Sonata form, but I could not find the definition of Dominant anywhere.

The actual introduction itself starts with an excerpt from the Scherzo which seems rather an odd way to begin things. It made me wonder if I had put the correct CD on. Siepmann's text is liberally sprinkled with musical excerpts from the complete performance of the quintet and from other pieces. This is extremely helpful, but what is lacking is the provision of incomplete musical examples (e.g. a sample of an individual player’s part). This means that we are reliant on Siepmann's description and our ability to distinguish what he has been talking about when listening to the complete excerpt. It would have been extremely useful, when talking about Schubert's complex textures, to be able to hear individual parts in isolation.

Jeremy Siepmann's informative narration is both lucid and entertaining, it wears its learning lightly and has a nice line in understated humour. By the time you have reached the end of these two admirable CDs you know a lot more about the structure of the Trout Quintet, without ever having felt you have been lectured to.

The extensive booklet contains the complete text spoken by Jeremy Siepmann plus various informational chapters on the Historical Background; a Biographical Sketch of Schubert; the place and importance of the Trout Quintet in Schubert's output; a structural overview - an excellent description of the structure of each movement; the Role of the Interpreter; The Art of the Listener; What Music is; What Music is Not: Music and Snobbery; A Brief Guide to the Composer's Tools - useful compendium of all the things that the more experienced listener might take for granted including descriptions of the standard instruments; The Basic Forms of Music - which includes a very lucid paragraph on Sonata Form; and finally a Glossary. Despite some rather high-flown language, much of this is useful and interesting - basics which one can often take for granted, especially in the Role of The Interpreter and the Art of the Listener chapters, though the author does take one or two rather barbed side-swipes at performers. The draw back is that much of this material is generic, not specifically applicable to the Trout Quintet. So if you have more than one of these 'An Introduction to…' sets, then you will have read some of this information already.

The CD booklet thus contains all the information a listener might need to understand the text and the illustrations. So to get the best from this set you must be prepared to use the booklet to read around the subject before listening. perhaps stop and look things up whilst listening the first time, and definitely listen more than once.

For the experienced user this set can prove an interesting illustrated lesson about the Trout Quintet and as such I found it very helpful. The performances, taken from the Naxos recording by Kodaly Quartet with Jeno Jando and Istvan Toth, are excellent. The disc also has excerpts from other works, including a performance of the original Schubert song.

But whether the listener was a novice or quite experienced, there will come a time when they are satisfied that they have learned all they can from this CD. What next? This is not really a set to sit on the library shelves to be taken down occasionally; the different movements are separated by the text, so that it is not easy to use these CDs to listen to a complete performance. This is very much to be shared or borrowed. But for anyone wanting to listen to classical music with a more informed ear, this is an excellent place to start.

Robert Hugill

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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