This is wonderful, life-enhancing, intensely heart-felt music which should be
in every collection, as should Fauré’s Piano Quintets, his Requiem
The Schubert Ensemble have already recorded the Piano Quintets (Chandos CHAN10576
Roundup April 2010
). I was not alone in thinking that their recording came
close to challenging the hegemony of Domus (Hyperion CDA66766), so I was particularly
interested in seeing if their new recording of the Piano Quartets could also
rival Domus in those works (Hyperion CDA30007, mid-price: also still, confusingly,
available at full-price), especially as another Chandos release, which I reviewed
in the same DL Roundup (CHAN10582, Kathryn Stott with the Hermitage String Trio)
had come close to doing so.
If those two Chandos recordings fail quite to displace Domus it’s in not quite
capturing the powerful emotion which Fauré displays; though it’s clear that
The Schubert Ensemble are themselves passionate about the music, they just lack
the last degree of Innigkeit
on their recording of the quintets.
These Nimbus Alliance recordings predate the Chandos release (rec. 2009), having
been set down in 1998 and 1999, but the performances share the qualities of
those of the quintets, with assured and stylish playing. If you want to hear
them at their best try the wonderfully lyrical account of the finale of the
The chosen tempi are generally very similar to those adopted by Domus except
in the second movement of the first quartet and the third movement and finale
of the second, where the Schubert Ensemble are rather slower in each case.
Domus are a little faster than most in the second movement of the first quartet
at 5:08 – other recordings take a little longer: Kungsbacka Trio-plus (Naxos)
5:22, Trio Wanderer-plus (Harmonia Mundi) 5:26, Pro Arte Quintet (Australian
Decca Eloquence) 5:31), Beaux Arts Trio-plus (Philips) 5:40. Though the Schubert
Ensemble at 5:33 are right in the middle of that range, I nevertheless feel
that Domus capture the spirit of the allegro vivo
marking more than the
rest. On the other hand the Schubert Ensemble give the music a lighter touch
here and they never sound slow.
The consensus for the third movement of the second quartet is around 10:20 or
slightly slower. The Schubert Trio take 11:19 which, although it allows what
Anthony Burton describes in the notes as a ‘murmuring figuration in the bass
register of the piano … [reminiscent] of distant church bells’ to come through
clearly in a manner which I find not unlike Vaughan Williams’ setting of ‘Bredon
Hill’ (from On Wenlock Edge
), the sense of momentum does suffer slightly.
From Domus the bells from the piano ring noticeably faster – joyful bells this
time – but the violin and viola maintain the wistful mood and I think they capture
the spirit of this movement better, observing both parts of the basic tempo
marking adagio non troppo
. There’s no sense that Domus are rushing the
music; the overall mood is expansive but not unduly slow in pace.
Another recording worth considering comes from Trio Wanderer with Antoine Tamestit
on Harmonia Mundi HMC902032. Reviewing a recording of the first quartet and
Piano Trio on Naxos, Brian Reinhart mentioned the Harmonia Mundi as his gold
standard – DL
. The tempi here are also very similar to those of Domus and
the Schubert Ensemble except in the last two movements of the second quartet.
If the Schubert Ensemble come close to the ideal but are slightly lacking in
capturing the last few ounces of magic in both quartets, Trio Wanderer-plus
come closer. Not having heard these performances before, I streamed them from
and was very
impressed. The opening of the first quartet comes over with great intensity
and that’s true throughout both works. In the second movement of Quartet No.1
they strike a balance between the tempi adopted by Domus and the Schubert Ensemble.
If the Schubert Quartet are noticeably slower than the consensus in the third
movement of the second quartet, Trio Wanderer-plus are significantly faster,
yet without failing to suggest the expansive nature of this movement. Though
they take 9:50 against Domus’s 10:20 and the Schubert Trio’s 11:19, there’s
no sense that they are rushing the music; if anything they sound a little more
expansive than Domus.
The differences are less marked but still significant in the finale, with Domus
fastest at 7:57, Trio Wanderer-plus at 8:07 and the Schubert Ensemble at 8:34.
The marking is allegro molto
and at first sight 8:34 looks a tad slow.
In practice, however, there’s very little to choose in this movement, with all
three producing convincing performances.
I can’t disagree with Peter Grahame Woolf’s description of the Schubert Ensemble’s
performance of Piano Quartet No.2 in live performance at Blackheath in 2000
as ‘played boldly, with vivid contributions from every player’ – review
Overall, however, I’m left as I was with their recording of Schubert’s ‘Trout’
Quintet and Piano Trio No.1 (Champs Hill CHRCD007 – review
it’s all very good but not quite up to the strong competition, in this case
on Hyperion and Harmonia Mundi.
When the Harmonia Mundi recording was released one reviewer – not on MusicWeb
International – criticised the recording quality, even complaining of lack of
focus and some extraneous bumping noises, which I think must have emanated from
a sub-standard review disc. If I have a small criticism it’s that the recording
makes the players sound a trifle too plush and places them rather upfront by
comparison with the Hyperion and Nimbus Alliance.
The Nimbus Alliance recording was made at a venue, St. George’s, Brandon Hill,
Bristol, much favoured by the BBC and recording companies for chamber music
and it proves to have been a suitable location on this occasion. The players
are neither too close nor too distant; though they are fractionally less immediate
than Domus or Trio Wanderer-plus, there’s not too much in it.
The notes in the booklet are by Anthony Burton and they are very good. They
are a little fuller than those by Stephen Johnson in the Hyperion booklet, though
that is very fine, too. I haven’t seen the Harmonia Mundi booklet – unusually,
it doesn’t come with the streamed version from Qobuz.
I very much enjoyed hearing these performances. If I hadn’t had the two other
performances for comparison I might well have given it top rating or something
very close. I certainly don’t wish to damn it with faint praise. Should you
decide to buy the CD you will have a pair of fine performances and recordings.
As usual, however, the best is the enemy of the very good and I shall still
turn to Domus for these marvellous works: they give us even more of the magic
and come at mid price on Hyperion’s 30th
Whichever you choose, you should also go for Domus’s recording of the two Piano