Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento in E flat major, K.563 (1788) [47:40]
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Trio in B flat major, D.471 (1816) [10:56]
Trio Zimmermann (Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Antoine Tamestit (viola); Christian Poltéra (cello))
rec. July 2009 (Mozart) and July 2010 (Schubert) at Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden.
BIS BIS-SACD-1817 [59:25]

Mozart’s E flat major Divertimento, K.563 is a quite outstanding score; certainly one of greatest ever written for string trio. Although inhabiting a very different sound-world probably Schoenberg’s String Trio, Op.45 from 1946 is its only rival in quality. At almost fifty minutes in performance the substantial six movement score is something of a Cinderella. It is to be hoped that this marvellous performance by the Trio Zimmermann will assist in giving this surprisingly neglected score the acknowledgement it richly deserves. It undoubtedly suffers from being described by Mozart as a divertimento a term generally associated with lighter works designed for entertainment.

The string trio repertoire is not extensive with the Mozart Divertimento, K.563 and Schoenberg’s much shorter String Trio, Op.45 reigning supreme. Of the other scores for the combination of violin, viola and cello I have always regarded Beethoven’s Serenade, Op. 8 and his four String Trios, Op.3 and Op.9/1-3 as fine works – all often overlooked.

In 2007 renowned solo violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann got together with violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Christian Poltéra to form their string trio. Trio Zimmermann is not however a full time ensemble. Although Zimmermann is by far the best known of the three all have solo careers and come together a couple of times each year to tour.

Mozart was thirty-two when he composed his outstanding Divertimento for violin, viola and cello in E flat major, K.563 in 1788. With the exception of his stage works this must be one of his most lengthy scores; certainly his longest chamber work. The year 1788 was a remarkably fruitful period that saw Don Giovanni premièred and the composition of his last three. The lengthy opening Allegro is here played with real joie de vivre followed by the extended Adagio, a heartfelt love letter in music. Marked Allegretto the first Menuetto is suitably lively yet the players still maintain courtly good manners. With a stretched out folk-like theme and set of variations the Andante is inventive and varied. The second Menuetto another Allegretto contains two trios, the first designed as a Ländler the second also in the manner of a folk dance with far more emphasis given to the violin. The concluding Allegro is a joyfully amenable and memorably lyrical Rondo just bursting with vitality.

Taking pride of place from the surprisingly few complete versions of Mozart’s Divertimento, K.563 is the distinguished 1967 performance from the Grumiaux Trio (Grumiaux, Janzer and Szabo) on Philips. After some forty-five years the Grumiaux version has never been outshone and still sounds fine today. Another recording worthy of consideration is the 2000 account by the impressive Leopold String Trio (Thorsen, Dickinson and Gould) on Hyperion.

The String Trio in B flat major, D.471 was composed in 1816 by the nineteen year old Schubert. This is an appealing score but makes no claims for greatness unlike K.563. Notable Schubert works from the year 1816 include the now lost Prometheus: Cantata (the first commission to earn him money), Mass in C major, D.452, String Quartet in E major, D.353, Symphony No.4 in C minor, D.417 ‘Tragic’, Symphony No.5 in B flat major, D.485 and over a hundred songs. Commencing with a lovely and instantly memorable melody the D.471 reminded me so much of Mozart. Caught up in the cheerfulness of the score the Trio Zimmermann play with a sense of fondness and proficiency.

The best known version of this Schubert’s String Trio is the excellent 1969 account from the Grumiaux Trio (Grumiaux, Janzer and Czako). Released on Philips the performance still sounds fresh after over forty years.

In both the Mozart and the Schubert scores the recordings from the Grumiaux Trio from the late 1960s on Philips offer the most challenging competition. With playing that feels natural and unforced Trio Zimmermann bring warmth and vitality to the music. Their unity and tonal blend is to a high standard and they play with humanity and sensitivity. Ideally to widen the emotional extremes of the Mozart performances I wanted a touch more searching quality in the Adagio and additional drama in the Allegros.

Each score on this BIS disc was recorded on separate occasions in 2009 and 2010 at Nybrokajen in Stockholm. I played this hybrid SACD on my standard player and was delighted by the overall sound and balance. I was interested to read that on this recording Frank Peter Zimmermann was playing the ‘Lady Inchiquin’ Antonio Stradivarius (1711) violin that was once played by Fritz Kreisler. Antoine Tamestit used the ‘Mahler’ Antonio Stradivarius (1672) viola and Christian Poltéra played an Andreas Guarneri cello from 1675; all with modern stringing and set-ups.

Beautifully presented and recorded this impressive disc will prove a most worthwhile addition to any chamber music collection.

Michael Cookson

Beautifully presented and recorded this impressive disc will prove a most worthwhile addition to any chamber music collection.