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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No.1 in B-flat, Op.99, D898 [41:45]
Notturno in E-flat for piano trio, D897 (Op. Post.148) [9:38]
Piano Trio No.2 in E-flat, Op.100, D929 [45:29]
Andreas Staier (fortepiano: Christopher Clarke (1996) after Conrad Graf, Vienna 1827); Daniel Sepec (violin: Lorenzo Storioni, Cremona 1780); Roel Dieltiens (cello: Marten Cornelissen (1992) after Stradivarius)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, 15-18 and 20-22 June 2015. DDD.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902233/34 [51:23 + 45:29 = 97:04]

Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

Selected comparisons:

(Trio No.1, Notturno, Piano Trio in one movement, D28): Florestan Trio HYPERION CDA67273. Reviewed as lossless download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.

(Trio No.2): Florestan Trio HYPERION CDA67347 (includes original and shorter versions of finale). Reviewed as lossless download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.

(Trio No.1, with ‘Trout’ Quintet): The Schubert Ensemble CHAMPS HILL CHRCD007 – review.

(Piano Trios 1 and 2; Notturno; Sonatensatz in B-flat): Trio Wanderer HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902002.03 (2 CDs, mid price). Reviewed as lossless download from eclassical.com (NO booklet).

(Piano Trios 1 and 2; Notturno; String Trio in B-flat, D581; String Trio in B-flat, D471 (single movement) String Trio in B-flat (single movement); Piano Trio in one movement, D28): Beaux Arts Trio; Grumiaux Trio DECCA 4387002 (2 CDs, super-budget price).

One might have thought that with so many eminent recordings of the Schubert Piano Trios, separately or together, there was little room for a new recording. Certainly I could be happy with any of those listed and all but one have a price advantage. The classic Beaux Arts recordings come as a splendid bargain on a Decca (originally Phillips) twofer; the Florestan Trio recordings are available at a 20% discount from Hyperion as I write and the new Harmonia Mundi comes for the price of a single CD, while their earlier Trio Wanderer recording is also available at less than the price of two discs.

The Champs Hill recording comes at full price and, though I very much warmed to the performance of the Piano Trio, the very competent performance of the Trout Quintet doesn’t quite stand up to the very intense competition, with Clifford Curzon and members of the Vienna Octet, still my go-to recording. (Download or 23-CD set). Force me into a corner and I suppose that the Florestan Trio would be my preference among these earlier recordings: I’ve had a high opinion of their performance of No.2 ever since hearing them play it at the Wigmore Hall in 2007 when, if memory serves, they played the shorter finale with the cut which Schubert authorised. On CD the listener has the choice between that and the original longer version.

The new recording on period instruments adds an extra dimension which makes me inclined now to rate it as my top choice. These trios, though almost symphonic in length, are essentially music-making on a domestic scale, akin to the ‘Trout’ Quintet and the Octet rather than the more intense ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet, the large-scale String Quartet No.15 and the emotionally intense String Quintet. For those three works only an intense performance will do.

Andreas Staier’s Schubert on the fortepiano already featured among my short-list of recordings for the wonderful late piano sonatas: comparing him with Andreas Schiff, also on fortepiano, on ECM in D894 and the Impromptus, D935, I thought both well worth hearing and obtaining – review.

As on that recording, Staier plays on a modern copy of an 1827 Graf fortepiano and once again it’s the choice of instrument that proves very winning. I know that there are those who can abide the fortepiano as little as I can the bagpipes but I do urge them to listen to this recording: subscribers to Qobuz, Naxos Music Library or classicsonline.com and even the free version of Spotify can do that. The sound is drier than the modern instrument on the other recordings but it’s the sound that Schubert would have expected to hear and, even more to the point, it contributes to the impression that this is music-making on a domestic scale among performers who are enjoying themselves.

That doesn’t mean that these are at all wimpish performances: there’s plenty of power and attack where needed and emotion, as in the funeral march of D929, the latter at a slightly faster pace than most, but the overall impression is of music being played in your own living room even though Trio No.2 digs deeper than its precursor and the performers dig deeper too. In the Notturno there’s also as much emotion as you could wish.

The playing throughout is crystal clear and the recording captures that clarity superbly. I’m sure that the CD sounds fine but it’s worth going for the 24-bit download in the absence of an SACD, even though the falling value of the post-Brexit makes that rather expensive when eclassical.com price in $. Classicsonline.com offer this in 16-bit only, without booklet, and, at 12.24, for slightly more than the CDs, on sale as I write for 10.50. I’m sorry to see Harmonia Mundi and Chandos apparently backing away from the SACD format in many of their recent releases.

So it’s the Florestan Trio on two separate Hyperion CDs or Trio Wanderer on a Harmonia Mundi 2-CD set if you really cannot abide the fortepiano but I really do recommend trying the new recording even so. The 1827 instrument and its period companions really do make the music sound especially piquant.

Brian Wilson



 




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