“Trout” Quintet and D581 Christian Zacharias
(piano), Leipzig String Quartet, Christian Ockhert (Double bass)
The Trout Quintet
is among my absolute favourite pieces and has been for forty
years since I first heard it at Leeds Grammar School, a concert
broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
The number of eminent
versions stretches from Schnabel and Pro Arte with Hobday (EMI),
Curzon with both Vienna and Amadeus quartets (Decca and BBC),
Gilels and Amadeus (DG), Brendel and Cleveland (Philips), to
recent gems from the Lindsays (ASV), Jando and Kodaly (Naxos)
and Schiff and Hagen (Decca) Ades and Belcea (EMI). Clearly
a detailed survey is called for ’ere long!
Two new versions
to come my way have been those by Christian Zacharias with the
Leipzig Quartet and that featuring Paul Lewis with the Leopolds
which has already received a mixed response although not on
MusicWeb. The Lewis account is not a performance that yields
its secrets in one listening. It needs time and I have found
that when I returned to it for the fourth or fifth occasion
in as many weeks I was beginning to appreciate its virtues.
Paul Lewis is a pianist I greatly admire as readers of my review
of his Beethoven Op. 30 will observe. My wife and I heard him
two years ago in a solo recital in Oxford and we thought him
To begin with I
felt the quintet hadn’t quite gelled but there is certainly
a Viennese lilt from the off. Lewis shows his debt to his teacher
Brendel without the “plonking” the Austrian maestro sometimes
brings. Comparing the version on MDG there is a greater sense
of group ensemble and the sound has the darker quality that
Schubert surely had in mind. The Leipzig group also bring more
light and shade in the wonderful allegro. Zacharias is an underrated
pianist in the UK; I’ve long enjoyed his surveys of the piano
sonatas (EMI). Here he brings a more mature view far removed
from the sunny “hausmusik” preferred by many. Rarely have I
heard the “Trout” played with five equal performers totally
involved except perhaps a DVD of Curzon and the Amadeus (Testament).
On the other hand Lewis is the dominant force in the Hyperion
recording; and very good he is too.
The key movement
is the fourth which is based on the theme of Schubert’s song
“Die Forelle”. Comparisons show Lewis & Co. at 8:22 whereas
the Leipzig version is 7:46. Interestingly Zacharias speeds
the tempo appreciably when he joins the quartet. The Leopolds
seem very hesitant in their introduction, almost as if they
were frightened of falling into the river! Lewis dominates the
moment he joins in … and this is supposed to be an over-cautious
rendering! Schnabel and his pupil Curzon are pre-eminent here
but I really enjoyed the Leipzig version which has a real feeling
of ensemble and better recorded strings. Schubert deliberately
chose a double-bass over a second violin so we do need to hear
it! This is a fully realised creation whereas Lewis and his
partners present what sounds like work-in-progress.
The finale - used
in that glorious comedy “Waiting for God” - sometimes seems
to be one movement too many and has a famous false ending. Zacharias
is superb here at bringing out Schubert’s wit and repartee and
keen observers of Brahms’ waltzes will spot a few influences.
Allegro giusto is what it is entitled; what gusto they
bring to the piece! Lewis & Co. are much faster in this
movement and the strings seem rushed at times. Comparisons are
invidious and no doubt at a concert I’d greatly enjoy this interpretation
as a “one off” as it has lots to offer. The Zacharias/Leipzig
“Trout” swims immediately into my top five; sadly Lewis &
Co. are close but no cigar despite offering a reading worthy
of returning to for its own charms.
The Hyperion disc
begins with a very proficient and charming string trio which
is quite glorious. It has made me wonder if the Leopold trio
had spent sufficient time with Lewis as they are so very good
here. The Leipzig give us instead an inconsequential torso;
all one minute forty one seconds of it!
When I bought my
old Curzon and Vienna quartet on the Ace of diamonds label in
the 1970s the “Trout” was enough and plenty. In these days of
the CD most Trout’s have chips; common to both discs is the
String Trio D581 which is relatively less well known
compared to say the two quintets and the last four quartets.
It’s a charming piece which reminds me in places of Beethoven’s
op.18. The final movement has a delightfully Viennese landler-style
rondo allegretto with the violin dominant throughout. Beethoven
experimented with this before embarking on the aforementioned
quartets. I believe that we had to wait until Schoenberg for
a major composer to write again for this form. It’s very difficult
as Hans Keller pointed out; it keeps wanting to turn into a
quartet! In the first movement I felt the slower pace of the
Leopold string trio and their experience in this form gave the
music extra depth. The andante is surely pointing the way to
the later quartets. Both ensembles play wonderfully well with
an extra quality of mystery with the Leopolds. They are also
very fine in the minueto allegretto which has an elegiac quality.
The Leopolds are more of an ensemble in this lovely finale so
that in this piece they probably just take the honours.
can I come to after listening to two such fine discs? As an
ensemble the Leopold are excellent in both string trios although
I haven’t had time to listen recently to the Grumiaux in D581
on an excellent Philips duo; their version of D471 is sublime.
They are the less extrovert group and The Trout suffers
as a result. The Hyperion disc remains a worthwhile purchase
so long as you can accept that it’s not quite a Trout
of the top class. Paul Lewis undoubtedly has it in him to produce
such a version later in what is already a very promising career.
Do get the Leipzig CD which is glorious throughout.
David R Dunsmore
see also Review
by Tony Haywood