Schubert: Trout Quintet (CD review)
I'm sure there are as many "Trout" in the music catalogue as there are fish in the sea. Sometimes we wonder why record companies keep releasing the same warhorses over and over, but in the case Schubert's Piano Quintet in A, D667, one can understand the justification for so many releases. The work continues to sparkle with a freshness that that never fails to enthrall listeners. Regarding the present "Trout," Jos van Immerseel and company recorded it on period instruments some years ago for Sony Classics, and the folks at Newton Classics are now reissuing it in their own transfer. It's a worthy re-release in a crowded and highly competitive field.
Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in his short life wrote some of the happiest, most-felicitous, and most-moving music the world has ever known, with his "Trout" Quintet (written in 1819 but not published until a year after his death) among the most cheerful, and most challenging, of the lot. People called it "The Trout" early on because Schubert based the final movement on a series of songs, lieder, he had written some years earlier, variations known as "Die Forelle" or "The Trout."
Immerseel on fortepiano and the period-instruments ensemble L'Archibudelli provide a lively interpretation of the work, even if one is immune to the charms of period-instruments bands. Note, however, that one would never know this was a period-instruments recording from just reading the jewel box if one didn't notice the word "fortepiano" next to Immerseel's name or already know that Immerseel and L'Archibudelli play on period instruments. Newton Classics say nothing of the matter on the disc, the booklet, or the booklet insert. Of course, you might notice once you started listening to the music: a fortepiano sounds slightly less resonant than a modern piano, and gut strings, period tuning, and older performing practices sound different from modern ones.
Anyway, Immerseel and company take this "Trout" in a more vigorous fashion than most other performers do, with energetic rhythms and sprightly accents well punctuated. While it is hardly the leisurely, charming "Trout" we hear from musicians like Alfred Brendel et al (Philips) or the augmented Beaux Arts Trio (Philips or PentaTone), two of my favorites, Immerseel's reading has its own delights, at least if you like fast speeds. Personally, I prefer the more leisurely approach.
So, just how quick is this reading? The only other period-instruments version I had on hand was from members of the Academy of Ancient Music on L'Oiseau-Lyre, and in every movement Immerseel and his companions are faster. Needless to say, compared to modern accounts, such as those from the aforementioned Brendel and Beaux Arts, Immerseel is practically a speed demon.
Under Immerseel's direction, the first movement, an Allegro vivace, shows much life and animation, while at the same time a sensitive flow of melodies. The next movement, the slow Andante, may not be as graceful as we hear it in many other renderings, but it is still quite lovely and lyrical.
The Scherzo: Presto is particularly forceful, although the actual dynamics--the range between the softest and loudest passages--is not particularly wide, which may be one of the disc's only failings. The performers tend to play almost everything at the same level, without as much contrast as in others' hands. Nevertheless, it is fetching in its way.
The central Variations are as delightful as ever, despite their brisk tempos, and I might say the same for the finale. Schubert's indication for the last movement is Allegro giusto (cheerful, joyful, usually fast, and fitting or just right), which is a pretty general tempo marking, allowing for a lot of interpretative leeway. At least we know Schubert wanted something a little fast and lively, and he gets it here, the performers playing with more-than-enough gusto.
The next of the program's couplings is the Sonata in A minor, D821, for piano and cello, also called the "Arpeggione Sonata" because Schubert wrote it for an instrument called the arpeggione. Unfortunately, shortly after he wrote it the instrument went out of style, and today performers usually play it on the cello. Anner Bylsma plays it on a violincello piccolo. The piece is largely grave in nature, with occasional lighter moments.
The Adagio in E flat, D897, "Notturno," for piano trio that closes the show is sweetly melancholic and regal at the same time. It's a neat combination.
Where this release scores over many of its competitors is its recording, made in July, 1997, in Lutherse Church, Haarlem, the Netherlands. It captures a genuine sense of air and space around the instruments without ever sounding bright, forward, or edgy. Indeed, if it errs at all, it's on the side of being a tad too smooth and warm. The stereo spread is broad enough to indicate a modest distance, yet the clarity and impact of the music never appear too compromised.
I'm not sure how well received this recording of the "Trout" was when Sony first released it, but it certainly deserves this second chance on Newton Classics. It strikes a generally happy chord and brings a smile to the lips.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.