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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

 

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D.898 (1827) [40:29]
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat D.929 (1827) [42:26]
Notturno in E flat D.897 (1827) [10:14]
Sonatensatz D.28 (1812) [7:39]
Grand Duo in A major D.574 (1817) [22:37]
Jean-Philippe Collard (piano)
Augustin Dumay (violin)
Frédéric Lodéon (cello)
rec. Salle Adyar, Paris, Jan, May 1986; Salle Wagram, Paris, Jan.1982
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 365295 2 [58:35 + 65:13]

 

 

I owe a great deal to this French trio, both collectively and individually. Dumay has entranced me time without number in concert and on disc and Collard’s set of Fauré’s piano music in red gatefold LPs will have to be prised out of my cold dead fingers before I part with them. I remember with pleasure a few years ago his sepulchrally tall figure substituting for an ailing colleague in a Rachmaninoff concerto. Of the three musicians Frédéric Lodéon is the least well known, and also the least well travelled, but he is a consummate chamber player and a most eloquent musician.

So I owe them a great deal and I was expecting a lot from them, in a Schubert set of theirs that I’ve never heard before. It’s been around even in twofer form because many of these Geminis were available previously in Double Forte incarnation. And I was expecting them to appeal strongly in the B flat trio in particular, perhaps to stand in that great tradition stretching back to the recordings made by Cortot, Casals and Thibaud, another “French” trio, if one accepts one Frenchman, a Catalan and a French speaking Swiss as a French trio.

Unfortunately hopes were dashed and I was interested to read in his review that Tony Haywood experienced similar frustrations. Part of the problem resides in the glassy recording, one that becomes increasingly wearing as the recordings progress. But it really only accentuates some inherent stylistic problems in the performances themselves. The trio strives to present the works as youthful chariots of inspiration, though ones naturally written so soon before Schubert’s death. The impression however remains one of a certain casual and unaffectionate coolness. Whereas with the Cortot-Casals-Thibaud recording every tempo and every tempo relation and every transition sounded just right – unaffectedly and sympathetically right – here D.898 sounds briskly matter of fact, with phrasing that sounds forced rather than natural.

I’m afraid the same kind of non-committal playing attends the companion trio. I don’t even think that Collard is at all flattered by the engineering in the E flat. He’s just that bit too forward in the sound-stage and he really does set quite a fast tempo for the opening movement. Clarity and articulation don’t actually suffer even at this speed – these musicians are too deft and experienced to fail in that respect – but in their eagerness to banish sentiment they rather glide over the surface.

Similarly with the Notturno, we have a surfeit of the public and too little of the private in a performance that fails to grip. Dumay and Collard join forces for the Sonatensatz and the Grand Duo. There’s plenty of finely phrased playing from both men even if Dumay’s tone is hampered by the brightness of the recording, which accentuates harsh forte playing. Since this is something I seldom if ever associate with him it’s best to blame the Paris studio set up or subsequent engineering work.

Even at this price range there are plenty of worthwhile alternatives. For an example of how the first trio should go, even without all repeats, that talismanic Cortot-Casals-Thibaud recording stands as a rich reproof on Naxos. The Trio di Trieste’s recording of both trios is in a DG box – five CDs admittedly but at a tempting price and with much else. The Beaux Arts are also recommendable in a Philips Duo in its – to me – preferred Guilet-Greenhouse-Pressler incarnation. If you get Philips 438700 you’ll get the trios, the Notturno and the Trios for Strings D471 and 581 played by a group led by Arthur Grumaiux.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Tony Haywood

 





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