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
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
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
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?
see also Review