Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
CD 1 [71:20]
Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat major, D. 929 (op. 100) (1828) [45:43]
Sonata in A major Arpeggione, D. 821 (op. 75) (1824) [25:37]
CD 2 [65:05]
Piano Trio no. 1 in B flat major, D. 898 (op. 99) (1827) [41:18]
Fantaisie in C major for violin and piano, D 934 (op. 159) (1827) [23:47]
Trio Dali - Amandine Savary (piano); Vineta Sareika (violin); Christian-Pierre La Marca (cello)
rec. January-February 2011, Flagey Studio 4, Brussels. DDD
FUGA LIBERA FUG584 [56:23 + 49:50]

Trio Dali have followed their earlier recording of Ravel with a new recording of the Schubert Piano Trios. With these they have included the Arpeggione sonata, D. 821, and the C major Fantaisie, D. 934, works that allow the string players to show off their solo wares. Combining these less well known works with Schubertís two masterpieces of the form works well both in varying the program, and in making the achievements of the trios even more evident.

The Schubert Piano Trios are late works. They date from 1827, the year that also saw the composition of the song-cycle Winterreise, the Impromptus for piano and the Fantaisie for piano and violin, included in this set. The first trio is the more classical of the two. The second trio is somewhat reminiscent of Beethovenís Archduke trio in its almost symphonic dimensions and thematic richness; the Olympian simplicity of Beethovenís work also has an echo in this trio. Schubert wrote them for the Schuppanzigh-Linke-Bocklet trio, members of which had given the premieres of most of the Beethoven string quartets and trios. This was obviously a distinguished group, and the Schubert trios are works that require a virtuoso ensemble.

Trio Dali opens their account somewhat unexpectedly with the second trio. One notices immediately their care in avoiding heftiness when playing chords; where other trios land heavily on the double stops, the Dali players integrate them smoothly into the cadences. The dynamics are carefully graduated throughout the phrases. The long climaxes are approached strategically; the ensemble doesnít hit its straps too soon, leaving it playing flat out for long periods. The tempo is extremely well chosen, with a pulse that never flags; rhythms are nicely pointed, and the sound sparkles. The second movement features a sensitively shaped cello solo, which is not played too legato. The passionate climaxes are again very well built up, and the return of the theme at the end over ghostly pizzicatos is superbly managed. The Scherzando is not taken too fast, but has a gentle, quite pastoral approach. The trio is more bucolic with fine spiccato playing from the violin. The finale is gracefully played; the ornamentation is not unduly emphasised. The interplay between the string players is beautifully done, and the piano never overpowers their contributions. There is a delightful accuracy about the playing; rests, for example, are always given their full value. However there is never anything pedantic or finicky about it. There is a consistent sense of discovery and freshness about the music-making. This is a really well thought through and beautifully realised performance.

The Beaux Arts Trio recorded the Schubert trios in the 1960s. The recording is closer than the Dali set, and the pizzicatos come across more clearly; there is the occasional sound of a bow stick on the strings. The Beaux Arts are distinctly quicker in the first movement (12:38 versus 16:11), and about a minute faster in the Finale. The string players tend to come down more heavily on the chords; the performance has abundant warmth, but sounds a little unrefined after Trio Dali.

The first disc of this set concludes with a performance of the Arpeggione sonata D. 821, played by the trioís cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca. This work was originally written for the arpeggione, a hybrid instrument that was a cross between a cello and a guitar. It is a pleasant and melodic but rather meandering work in three movements. La Marca gives a performance that easily surmounts its technical demands. He is a relaxed-sounding player; his sound is not large, but it is produced without apparent effort. La Marcaís intonation is immaculate and his playing is extremely clean, with very few expressive slides. He shapes the abundant melodies carefully, with well contoured dynamics. The fast arpeggios and repeated notes in the finale are done with great clarity and neatness. Only the penultimate chord sounds a little abrupt. He is sensitively accompanied by the trioís pianist Amandine Savary.

Mstislav Rostropovichís 1968 recording of this work accompanied by Benjamin Britten is a classic. Rostropovich and Britten slow more markedly than La Marca and Savary; they take 13:34 for the first movement, as against 11:29. Their performance is more dramatic in character compared to La Marcaís, which has a classical restraint. Rostropovichís sound is characteristically generous, and the pizzicatos come across more clearly. He plays this work with a relaxed charm, and Brittenís accompaniment fits like a glove. This recording has been re-issued in the Decca Legends series (460 974-2) together with the Schumann Five pieces in folk style and the Debussy Sonata. La Marca and Savary stand up well to this comparison, however, and the placement of the work after the trio allows one to relax after the more strenuous pages of D.898.

The second disc in the Trio Dali set contains the first Piano Trio and the violin Fantaisie. The Trio opens in ebullient fashion, with more sensitive interplay between the strings. Their approach seems a little more vigorous in this Trio than in the second. The pulse is well maintained, as before, but the violinistís tone becomes unattractive over forte. La Marca judges the cello tune in the second movement to perfection, avoiding sentimental slides. The third movement has a measured pace, but the rhythm is alert and the dynamics are carefully shaped. The nostalgic trio fades away beautifully to a thread. The finale is genial, with some delightful off-bow playing from the violinist. Trio Dali gets a lot of things right in this performance, but it is not quite as well controlled as their account of the second Trio.

The Beaux Arts Trio is again faster in the first movement, by a whopping four minutes (10:38 as against 14:35). The timings for the rest of the movements were a lot closer, differing only by a few seconds. After Trio Dali they again sound lacking in finesse, particularly as regards their dynamic shaping. The pianist Menahem Pressler seems to dominate his ensemble more than Amandine Savary does hers.

The disc concludes with the Fantaisie in C major for violin and piano, D 934. This is an exploratory, rather uneven work in four movements. The first movement is particularly attractive, with the violinist stealing in over a shimmering accompaniment. This and the third movements recall the atmosphere of the Notturno for piano trio, which was probably intended to be the slow movement of the first Trio. The faster second and fourth movements require considerable agility from the violinist. The work is very adeptly played by Vineita Sareika, and Amandine Savary again provides a discreet and unselfish accompaniment.

Trio Daliís performance of the second Schubert Piano Trio sets a new standard for sensitive and refined ensemble playing in this repertoire. At the same time their playing remains lively and expressive. The performance of the first Trio falls a little below this standard, but they make up for this with enjoyable readings of the Arpeggione and Violin Fantaisie. The recording isnít too close and there is a good balance between the piano and the string instruments.

Guy Aron

Trio Dali plays the Schubert piano trios with considerable zest and refinement complemented by fine accounts of the Arpeggione sonata and the C major Fantaisie.