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Pristine Audio Direct (purchase or download)

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Trio in B flat major, Op. 99, D.898 (1826)
(Allegro moderato [11:11]; Andante un poco mosso [9:10]; Allegro [6:09]; Allegro vivace [8:48])
Jean Fournier (violin)
Antonio Janigro (cello)
Paul Badura-Skoda (piano)
Released in 1953 as Westminster LP 51-88
Transfer and digital remastering by Pristine Audio, April 2006

This is my first encounter with Pristine Audio, and I must say I am deeply impressed. Visit their website ( and you are at once presented with an uncomplicated series of options, both in finding your way around the site and searching for music, and in ordering your sounds in whichever format suits you best. These recordings can be downloaded direct to your computer or, as I am reviewing here, copied and sent out on CD-ROM stock, accompanied with appropriate labelling. I have cut out the printed ‘sleeve’ and lovingly put it and the disc into a slim-line jewel case, and very nice it looks too.

There are no notes on the printout, but all relevant information about the recordings and remastering appear on the website. Peter Harrison is one of those miracle workers who manage to make transfers from vinyl originals sound like the original master tape. This recording has no surface noise, no snap-crackle-and-pop, yet sounds wonderfully uncompressed and natural – true, it is vintage mono stuff, but it just goes to show how much dynamic depth and variety there is in the source disc. Harrison is obviously a perfectionist, and goes into worn LPs at length, excusing occasional signs of this on the present recording to the point of doubting whether it should have been released at all. I can only say I hardly noticed much in the way of distortion. Other than a little end-of-side grind and possibly one or two mildly grubby peaks this is an exceptionally clean and detailed transfer, and a pleasure to even the most critical of ears. You can try the second movement on a free download from the site, which is generally representative of the quality of this recording and performance. For splice fans this also includes the only really clunky tape edit, which Harrison also mentions as being part of the original master.

The trio of Fournier, Janigro and Badura-Skoda made a number of excellent recordings for New York-based Westminster Recordings in the 1950s, and any further releases from Pristine Audio will be well worth looking out for. Their playing is often sublime. I picked out one or two comparisons: the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips 1984) and the Arion Trio (Bis 1989), and found the elderly recording equally and often more involving than the more recent stereo versions. Taking that gorgeous second Andante un poco mosso movement the Arion Trio show themselves a little too fussy, with little rubati and lots of overdone swelling within the notes. The Beaux Arts Trio is closer, emphasising the simple, songlike nature of the melodies, but it is the cello of Antonio Janigro which really sings the most out of this random batch of comparisons.

I always seem to come back to the question of ‘why’ – what is it that gives these old recordings that extra magic? In this case it seems to me that the instrumentalists are ideally matched. Janigro and Fournier’s vibratos go hand in glove, and it often seems as if they are one big multi-stringed instrument being played by one person. If anything the piano comes off worst in the transfer, the decay of notes sometimes seeming a little ‘layered’ or lumpy – but I will again stress, this is a minor observation, and in no way a complaint. Paul Badura-Skoda’s lyrical legato and subtle pedalling are a joy, and the piano tones are solidly firm and distinct – well placed in the nicely resonant acoustic. Again, there are one or two very minor moments of imperfect intonation in the strings, but this to me is part of the value of this recording: it sounds like a live performance. Play on to the end and tell me you couldn’t imagine it being followed by rapturous applause – even after Schubert’s own seeming uncertainty as to how the piece should really conclude!

The CD label is no doubt slightly ironically marked ‘33 1/3 RPM’, but the message is clear – those old analogue recordings are like rainforest plants: you don’t know how much you miss them until you simultaneously discover them and realise they’re nearly extinct. Pristine Audio’s work in re-releasing recordings of this rarity and value has been a big discovery for me, and I shall certainly be keeping an eye on their catalogue from now on.

Dominy Clements


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