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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio in E Flat Major, D.929 [49.04]
Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 [24.20]
Antje Weithaas (violin)
Marie-Elizabeth Hecker (cello)
Martin Helmchen (piano)
rec. 2014/17, Sendesaalm Bremen; B-Sharp Studio, Berlin
ALPHA 284 [73:24]

Despite the slightly unusual combination of works, this CD provides a fascinating insight into the world of Schubert, and in its remarkable performance of the Piano Trio, provides an interesting and invaluable alternative to the now venerable but rightly revered performance by the Beaux Arts Trio, a performance I would not be without.

The second Trio is the most obviously symphonic, and not only by virtue of its length. On the new CD, the symphonic is emphasised, but there is also room for poetry. Nevertheless, some who think of Schubert only as a melodist may be put off by outbursts here more reminiscent of Beethoven. The merit of this approach is to bring out the dramatic nature of Schubert’s genius, to say nothing of the melancholy and virtuosic writing. To its first listeners the piece must have seemed dark as well as daring.

The first movement here captures that very well: the opening is stark and dramatic. The performance, a little slower than some on CD, allows everything to be clear, and the violent contrasts of the whole movement are sharp. Even more telling is the extraordinary Andante con moto, for me one of Schubert’s greatest utterances. Notice the rhythmic security of the opening phrases before a kaleidoscope of mood changes, carefully pondered (by performers and composer), all without any loss of forward drive. Even in the Scherzando there is a combination of seriousness and weightiness.

For the finale, the trio have chosen the original version – more extended and more obviously symphonic than the later version. The benefits are evident – the melodies, including that wonderful cello tune, spin on. Martin Helmchen handles the tricky writing for piano beautifully, sonorous or delicate as the moment requires. This is great music-making.

The Arpeggione Sonata is, of course, justly popular, and often presented as a relatively cheerful piece. Helmchen and Hecker view it more sombrely but without ignoring its sunnier aspects. In this recording, there is a sense of letting each phrase speak for itself rather than imposing a pre-decided reading on it. To let the music be itself in this way, an artful artlessness, is not easy, but is achieved here. Wonderful.

The recorded sound is excellent, the booklet acceptable, apart from the timings, which are all over the place. But this detail should not detract from a quite outstanding disc of wonderful music.

Michael Wilkinson



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