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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, D. 929, Op. 100 (1827)[51:41]
Sonatensatz in B flat major, D. 28 (1812)[9:49]
Kungsbacka Piano Trio
rec. St George’s Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 3-4 June 2003
NAXOS 8.555700 [61:29]

The piano trio in E flat major occupies a special place in Schubert’s oeuvre. Not only was it part of the programme of the only public concert featuring Schubert’s music during his lifetime; it was also the first of his compositions to be published by a foreign publisher, Probst in Leipzig. Publication was delayed and when the copies Schubert had requested finally arrived the composer was already dead.
Of the two full-length piano trios Schubert wrote No. 1 in B flat major has always been the most frequently performed. This is due perhaps to a more direct melodic appeal and that it is a lighter work than the E flat major. No. 2 is also the longer work and performed here in the original version, which means that the cuts Schubert made in the last movement before publication have not been observed; it becomes even longer.
Recordings exist of both works and the Kungsbacka Piano Trio face keen competition from both long established versions and, especially, the Florestan Trio (Hyperion CDA67347), recorded in December 2001, which has been my comparison.
Kungsbacka is a small town on the West Coast of Sweden, just south of Gothenburg. That’s where this group gave their first performance in 1997. Since then they have established an annual festival there. Although 2/3 of the trio are Swedish they are firmly established in England and appear regularly all over the world. This is not their first commercial disc – for BIS they have recorded music by Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist – but it is their recording debut in standard repertoire.
The recording is lively and immediate with quite a wide stereo image and the balance is on my equipment impeccable. I listened both through my ordinary speakers and through headphones, which I often do, especially with chamber music, and the effect was that of sitting in one of the front seats in a medium sized venue. Every detail was clearly audible but without the distracting sounds of extraneous noises from the instruments and heavy breathing that too close miking can result in. By comparison The Florestan felt a little less immediate, and a little “cleaner”, like being transported a few seats further back in the hall, but the difference is negligible. The difference in sound can also be described as Kungsbacka having a meatier sound while Florestan are marginally more refined. There is no difference in quality in this remark, I hasten to add, only a slightly difference in approach. There is also a feeling that Susan Tomes (Florestan) piano is a little more glittering than Simon Crawford-Phillips (Kungsbacka). Try the second movement and, especially, the third movement to see what I mean. Overall Florestan have a lighter touch and are also fractionally faster in all four movements. This is most notable in the last movement which in the Florestan version plays for 14:36 while Kungsbacka take 19:08. Listened to in isolation one never has a feeling that they actually are slow, but played one after the other the difference is noticeable.
Having heard Kungsbacka live in similar repertoire is was familiar with their wholehearted music making and their intensity, and this pays dividends also in this recording, even if the visual element is missing. The dancing third movement, with its canon writing, is bouncy and there is real surge in the contrasting trio, and in the finale they let loose the energy, making the whole movement a tour de force, especially on the part of the pianist. The beautiful melody of the second movement, which also appears again in the finale, has long been thought to be a Swedish folksong, and recent research has confirmed that it is based on Se solen sjunker (Lo, the sun is setting). It is memorably performed here with mellifluous cello tone from Jesper Svedberg.
Considering what Schubert wrote to his publisher: “the cuts in the last movement must be scrupulously observed” one can question the decision to play the original with another 98 bars, much of it repetition. True, there are some inventive ideas there and they are well worth hearing from time to time, but this also means that an already long work becomes even longer. Florestan offer both versions of the last movement, the printed one within the trio proper and the original as an extra. This leaves it to the listener to make his/her own choice. Even though Kungsbacka have a filler, there would still have been room for the cut finale.
The filler is the Sonatensatz written in 1812 when Schubert was 15 and it is a surprisingly assured composition. Here the piano dominates, as was the norm in earlier days of trio writing, but there is also some independent writing for the strings, at least the violin.
Even if in the last resort I have a slight preference for the Florestan’s leaner and fractionally quicker reading, the Kungsbacka’s version is a worthy addition to the catalogue and I hope they will get an opportunity to record the B flat major as well. Considering the price difference – Kungsbacka retails at around a third of the Florestan – no one need hesitate to acquire this disc which has an intensity and a freshness all of its own.
Göran Forsling


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