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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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