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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No 1 in B flat major, D 898 (?1827/1828) [33:52]
Notturno in E flat major, D 897 (?1827/1828) [9:52]
Suk Trio
rec. Prague, 1967. ADD
WARNER APEX 2564 60164-2 [43:47]

‘One glance’ at Schubert’s piano trios - the bright-voiced, sad-eyed Biederemeier children of Beethoven’s Op. 70/Archduke legacy - ‘and the troubles of our human existence disappear. All the world is fresh and bright again’. Thus Schumann.

Thirty, forty years ago the Suk’s performance of the big-boned B flat - sublime, Olympian chamber music - was a yardstick. Here were three great Czech artists in their prime: Josef Suk, Joseph Chuchro, Jan Panenka. They were playing what they’d always breathed, in familiar surroundings before the 1968 Soviet invasion that, in the BBC’s words of the time, brought ‘winter to Prague Spring’. Nowadays, though, I wonder if their forthright style and emphatic cheerfulness isn’t just a bit too much? Granted it helps define and support the structure. The opening Allegro (without repeat) gels into a buoyantly upbeat canter, symphonically Beethovenian, the hold-backs of tempo comfortably placed and paced. The finale too coheres energetically. But briskness can trivialise and the scherzo comes close to the trite and charmless. And a reluctance to dwell can de-mystify. Some expressive yielding and intensification of accent would not have gone amiss, for example, in the ‘shimmering’ subject of the finale (0:58, 1:40, etc), a passage Frankl-Pauk-Kirshbaum always used to do so well. More cello would have been welcome, too, in the same movement’s 3/2 ‘flat key’ episodes - a wonderful part especially if the player risks the slurs, dots and dynamic hairpins to the full. To miss the long die-away to the telling triple piano at bar 607 [7:53] is a waste of an opportunity.

In Schubart’s ‘key of love [and] devotion’ (Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst, Vienna 1806), the so-called Notturno – more than probably the B flat’s original slow movement - persists in the memory. I’ve long had real affection for it, unable still to reconcile Jack Westrup’s stinging 1946 sarcasm: ‘we may be thankful that this flaccid episode never formed part of a more substantial work’. The notion of the piece as ‘atmospheric’ cameo distinct from ‘argued’ canvas plainly never occurred to him. The Suk do the music nostalgic justice, drawing-out and leaning on the dotted-rhythms in a most Viennese way. They purposefully co-ordinate the double-dotted-patterns of the central section with the running sextuplets of the piano part. This is fragrant playing.

I like the idea of this repertory on one disc - however short value. Programming a ‘first/second thoughts’ comparison with the 2/2+3/4 Notturno in place of the 6/8 Andante we all know (tracks 1, 5, 3, 4) is a useful listening exercise.

On first hearing the recording is close and dryish but is natural in perspective with strings placed in front of the piano. One soon gets used to it.

Ateş Orga


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