Schubert sonatas

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CD: ArtistLed

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major Op. 99 D898 [36:08]
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major Op. 100 D929 [41:33]
Wu Han (piano); Philip Setzer (violin); David Finkel (cello)
rec. April 2008, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
ARTISTLED 10802-2 [77:41]
Experience Classicsonline

Schubert’s two Piano Trios are amongst his greatest works, contrasted both within themselves and between each other although written within weeks of each other. The B flat has a superficially contented character at the start, but even here clouds seem to come across the sky at increasingly frequent intervals. The E flat is a more obviously dramatic work throughout, and the curiously ambiguous march of the slow movement is surely some of the most inspired music Schubert ever wrote. They should be in any collection, and the attractions of including them on one disc are obvious. However this cannot be done without a price. The repeats of both first movements and one from the Scherzo of the E flat Trio are omitted. Personally I find this regrettable but not necessarily fatal – you may feel otherwise in which case there are many alternatives involving two discs, but such omissions were at one time the norm. It would be a pity to deprive yourself of the pleasure of hearing the present disc purely because of this.
The disc comes from ArtistLed, the creation of the pianist and cellist, who apparently not only played but also acted as producers and involved themselves in the whole process of producing the disc. The many various decisions which this must have involved were certainly well made, and it is rare to hear a disc of chamber music, especially of Piano Trios, so well balanced and clearly recorded. The intonation of the string players is unfailing reliable - not something to be taken for granted in this music - even if at times the vibrato might be regarded as excessive. The players have obviously studied and rehearsed these works with considerable care and the listener is soon aware with gratitude that no ugly or unintended sounds will emerge.
However one unfortunate result of this is that there seems to be a lack of spontaneity and of half-lights in the performances. The players play what is in the score, and play it very well with total assurance but, for me at least, the underlying character of the music often fails to emerge.
I regret saying this, as I have enjoyed other discs by these players and did very much appreciate the positive aspects of their playing and of the recording here. Nonetheless given the number of very good and even great performances of these works issued in recent years I cannot give this more than this somewhat half-hearted welcome. If it is nonetheless worth sampling if you can, as its virtues are far from negligible and these performances may well accord with your view of the music.
John Sheppard

see also review by Kevin Sutton



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