Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat, D898 (39:19)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat, D929 (43:27)
Beaux Arts Trio
rec. 13 July 1987 (D898), 6 September 1977 (D929), Signet Library, Edinburgh
Picture format 4:3, NTSC; Sound format LPCM mono; Region Code 0 (Worldwide).
ICA CLASSICS ICAD 5010 [81:00]

One has to be tolerant of the sub-par quality of historic recordings. There are many listeners and collectors who search out such recordings to hear great musicians who performed, in many cases, before the age of stereo. This is a vibrant market, and restorations are often made of very old recordings that shimmer with brilliant sound; in some cases, they can sound flat and lifeless.

This is the case with this DVD of the Beaux Arts Trio playing Schubert’s magnificent piano trios. Recorded on two dates - in 1977 and 1987 - the Beaux Arts seem well motivated to give a fine performance, and their playing is indeed energetic when necessary, and emotive when appropriate. However, the sound quality of both these recordings is disappointing. Granted, when watching this DVD, you experience this music as people did when it was first broadcast on the BBC in 1978 and 1987. Actually, since your DVD player and home theater system have better sound than a tinny TV set, it’s certainly better. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to have to put up with the lack of definition of these recordings.

The two trios were filmed in a cavernous hall in the Signet Library in Edinburgh. Much of the problem with the sound seems to come from this choice of venue. The instruments are poorly miked - at best, I make out one microphone hanging very high above them, but none in front, which is where the sound goes. While the 1987 recording sounds better than the 1977 one, the difference is marginal. Why they chose this overly spacious, hard-to-make room in which to film is beyond me; any normal sized space would have been much easier to work with.

The quality of the films themselves is variable. The 1987 recording has aged better, as is to be expected, and the direction and camera angles are more varied. A bit of fuzziness in the image is less of a problem than the poor sound, though, which, through an amplifier has no life, and through headphones is even worse.

Fans of the Beaux Arts Trio may still want to view and hear this DVD to see this fine trio perform. But unless you are a serious fan of this ensemble, I would suggest looking elsewhere for the music itself. Which, by the way, may be some of the finest chamber music of the 19th century.

Kirk McElhearn

Poor sound mars this “historic” DVD.