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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
An Introduction to the Piano Quintet ‘Trout’
Written and Narrated by Jeremy Siepmann
Performed by the Kodály Quartet with Jenö Jandó (piano) and István Tóth (double-bass)
Classics Explained series
NAXOS 8.558075-6 [2CDs: 144.32]

This is the latest in Naxos’s and Jeremy Siepmann’s ‘Classics explained’ series following on from Dvořák’s 9th (Naxos 8.558065-66) and Beethoven’s 6th (Naxos 8.558034-35 review). In the series a work is discussed and analysed in detail rather in the style of BBC Radio 3’s Sunday programme ‘Understanding Music’.

When I first unwrapped this handsomely packaged album I suspected, not having seen or heard the other two, that the analysis would be on one disc and the complete work on the second. This is sadly not so. The plan is this; each movement is discussed in some detail. A brief section is analysed and then heard, after practically each musical example a new track begins meaning that some tracks are very short and that CD1 has 58 tracks (movements 1 and 2) and CD2 has 68 (movements 3, 4 and 5). The complete text is given in the 120 page accompanying booklet all written by Siepmann. This booklet is a luxury item in itself and a very significant part of the product. The first section, divided into three essays, is ‘The composer and his work’. It outlines life in Schubert’s Vienna, followed by a biographical sketch with comments on his most important pieces, and then an attempt to place the quintet in context. Then comes the analysis. The complete spoken text is given, as mentioned, followed by a useful ‘Structural Overview’ and then, in my view, a slightly pretentious essay on the ‘Role of the Interpreter’.

The next essay ‘The Art of the Listener’ is divided into five sections including ‘What music is’ and ‘The Basic Forms of Music’. And if that’s not enough there is a very useful Glossary of fourteen pages explaining key words such as modulation and octave.

A word of warning: CD1 spends about 45 minutes analyzing the first movement which is the longest and most complex. The last movement analysis goes off at a tangent discussing how a composer may develop his material. The other movements are dismissed relatively quickly and efficiently.

The performance is completely standard and safe, nicely recorded and balanced and wonderfully uncontroversial.

I found myself wondering however at the market for these ‘Classics Explained’ CDs. Certainly as a teacher if this was a set work I would find it an invaluable aid as would my pupils, although in the UK it is probably too detailed for GCSE but just right for AS and A2 level. University students, if they didn’t find the tone sometimes too patronizing, might also consider it handy although standard repertoire is rarely on the University or Music College’s ‘works to be studied list’ beyond the 1st year. As for music-loving adults, then I am reminded that Debussy commented that music should not be analysed as the life blood could so easily be removed and the love for it lost for ever. I suspect that the analyses would be skipped by many as they can seem too detailed especially in the case of Movement 1.

Jeremy Siepmann though is potentially onto a winner. At about £10 this is a fine item and one to constantly refer back to. He has now left the BBC (since 1992) to form his own independent production company dealing with music programmers and in producing discs like this. The presentation and concept is excellent. It is just a case of do you like the execution?

Gary Higginson

see also review by Robert Hugill

Others in the series reviewed by musicweb:

Instruments of the orchestra

Bach Life and works

Bach Brandenburgs 4 and 5

Beethoven Life and works

Brahms Life and works

Brahms Piano Concerto no 2

Liszt Life and works

Mozart Life and works

RAVEL: Bolero & Ma Mère L'Oye

Tchaikovsky Life and works

Verdi Life and works

Verdi Aida

An introduction to the series


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