Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
CD 1
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D.898 (1827) [39:48]
Adagio (‘Nocturne’) in E flat op. posth. D.897 [8:03]
CD 2
Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat D.929 (1827) [53:40]
Sonata (Allegro) D.28 (1812) [7:07]
Claus-Christian Schuster (piano); Boris Kuschir (violin); Martin Hornstein (cello)
rec. 1-12 September 1991, Powersound Factory, Achau, Austria
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6137 [48:17 + 61:17]
 
This is full-blooded Schubert, richly recorded in a fairly up-front balance – for the strings in particular, and performed with passion and commitment. Right from the outset, the musicians of the Wiener Schubert Trio grab your attention in the dramatic opening of the Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D.898, and the only real question is whether they will be able to hold it.
 
I brought out a pair of comparisons, and was surprised to find the balance of the 1984 Beaux Arts Trio set on Philips 412 620-2, which covers identical repertoire, to be rather more in favour of the piano than I had remembered. This is still very fine music making, but in a drier acoustic and more distant strings makes the Wiener Schubert Trio sound positively symphonic in comparison. The latter are perhaps less transparent and gentle in the quieter sections, but still have plenty of contrast and melodic sensitivity. I had imagined the Beaux Arts Trio would still be an emphatic favourite in those outer movements, but in fact the picture is less clear cut. Where they do have the upper hand is in the sheer poetry of a movement such as the Andante un poco mosso of D.898, capable of moving a heart-filled with love to overflowing, where the Wiener players are swifter and more inclined towards an elegant dance tempo rather than overwhelmingly poignant reflection. Another recording I’ve held onto for years is the 4 CD set on BIS 521-524 with the Complete Chamber Music for Piano and Strings with the Arion Trio and guests. This is a very fine set and, set in a gorgeous church acoustic, perhaps the best recorded of the three, but returning to the favourite Andante and they are caught out being a little too indulgent with a tempo which seems reluctant to move forward at all. The Arion Trio certainly has more wit than the Wiener Schubert Trio in the Scherzo, which is good, but less playful in the present version. They do however have a fine lightness of touch in the final Rondo.
 
They are once again powerful in the first movement of the wonderful Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat D.929, through there is a tendency for the recording to be a bit boomy, resulting in one or two acoustic side-effects around 45 second in for example, where the left channel is momentarily sucked out of existence in those loud chords. The refinement of the Beaux Arts Trio is more acceptable here, with plenty of drama and a good deal more transparency in approximately the same tempo. One of the all-time best Schubert movements is the Andante con moto of this trio, and the Wien Schubert Trio is again relatively swift, and to my mind a bit too fast to make those wonderful ornament notes really tell – here played just before the beat and having more a double-dotted rhythm effect from the previous bar, rather than being played on the beat as most others do them. Schubert’s score is admittedly open to this kind of interpretation, but played on the beat as an appoggiatura the beauty and logic of the melodic ornamentations and lines snap into place, whereas the alternative results in rather four-square emphases. Besides, pianist Claus-Christian Schuster is inconsistent in this, as even a cursory look at the piano solos show, and this also has its effect on the reprise of the theme in the final Allegro moderato so goes further than just the one – alas critical – moment.
 
This being something of the highlight of these trios for me, this rather discounts the Wien Schubert Trio as a really serious choice. This is shame, as their explosively dramatic playing further on in the movement is certainly more than a match for the rather stiff Arion Trio, and out-storms the Beaux Arts players as well. I certainly enjoy their little shifts in tempo for the Scherzando, and the final Allegro moderato has great charm, though having more of a salon superficiality than the tightly observed intensity of the Beaux Arts Trio.
 
There is of course much competition from all over the place in these pieces, including the earlier and also very fine Beaux Arts Trio recording on a Philips Originals re-release, 475 7571, and the energetic Jean- Philippe Collard and colleagues on EMI. While they might not have become my absolute favourites I wouldn’t discount the Wien Schubert Trio out of hand, and if you are looking for masculine performances in a full-sounding recording which pulls no punches and brings out the tougher edges of Schubert’s passionate writing then this may indeed be the very thing for you. The playing here is technically very fine, musically sensitive and often very exciting. Such a high-impact recording can be a little fatiguing at close range and I suspect some of the acoustic aura may be the result of a little bit of unobtrusive but extra electronic tweaking. One thing is for sure however, you won’t be falling asleep while it’s on!
 
Dominy Clements
 
High-impact, masculine performance and recording.