Vienna Schubert Trio
CD 1
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Piano Trio in G minor Op.3 (1881) [31:56]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Piano Trio in G major (1880) [21:30]
CD 2
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Trio in D minor Op.9 (1893) [48:26]
Vienna Schubert Trio
rec. 1986, Doopsgezindekerk, Haarlem
NIMBUS NI6159 [53:31 + 48:26]

Founded in 1985, the Vienna Schubert Trio disbanded in 1993. During those eight years it built quite a prestigious reputation, winning awards and making admired recordings. It recorded the complete Mozart piano trios, for example, on EMI and had its own annual cycle of concerts at the Musikverein in Vienna.

Its two-CD recording of Schubert trios has also recently appeared on Nimbus [NI6137] so there are signs that disinterment is likely from this source. Iím not aware that any of this is back catalogue and am assuming that these first-ever releases have been laid down, like fine wine, waiting for a suitable opportunity to release. The early demise of the group clearly knocked that idea on the head.

This set of trios, for example, came in the first flush of the groupís establishment and was undertaken in the Doopsgezindekerk, Haarlem, a venue Iíve always found congenial for chamber recordings. The problem is that itís on 2 CDs lasting 102 minutes, so maybe suitable couplings were not available or the undertaking was otherwise shelved.

Whatever the whys and wherefores, the Trio chose to record three early works by Chausson, Debussy and Rachmaninov. None is wholly characteristic but all are worthily performed. The Chausson is almost invariably recorded by Franco-Belgian forces, but the Viennese are alert to its expressive, Franckian devices, the darkening twists of its narrative, and its stormy animť writing. They are acute when it comes to matters of bowing, too. The second movement provides them opportunities to vary bow pressure and vibrato speed, to lighten the tension and to extend appropriately lissom gestures. The lovely slow movement is luminously played Ė this elegy, full of regret, is touchingly done. But once into the finale, bow hair is taut, chording brisk, powerful and the stormy writing conveyed with authority.

They play the early Debussy trio with similar warmth. It was written the year before the Chausson, when Debussy was only 18. They donít make the Scherzo too beefy, as one might perhaps have feared, and project the Andante with tact and delicacy; itís not over-emoted and nor should it be; itís only four minutes long and not especially expressive.

The second disc houses the Rachmaninov trio, written in 1893 when the composer was 20. This has certainly retained its place in the trio repertoire rather more overtly than the companion works here. Once more the Vienna players argue with tact, and tread a good line between expression and reserve. Too much too early is invariably limiting. Their balance is fine, and they ratchet tension incrementally in the first movement. The long opening piano statement in the second movement is played with refined generosity by Claus-Christian Schuster, and itís noticeable how violinist Boris Kuschnir and cellist Martin Hornstein vary the weight and relative intensity of their playing with that of the piano. The performance is happily of a piece and makes sense on its own terms. That said, if you do want a warmer, more ĎRussianí performance, you will need to experience the old Oistrakh-Knushevitzky-Oborin recording. Oborinís piano playing is deeper, richer and more monumentally chorded, and the two string players play with burnished depth and intensity. The result is dramatically different.

Nevertheless this disparate and very slightly odd-looking selection of works will win the ex-trio listeners, Iím sure. The recordings themselves are sympathetically done and the booklet notes first class.

Jonathan Woolf

This disparate and slightly odd-looking selection will win listeners, Iím sure.