Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major "The Trout" (HQCD review)

Also, String Trio in B Flat. Clifford Curzon and members of the Vienna Octet. HDTT HQCD239.

Has there ever been a more charming, more cheerful, more radiant piece of music than Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, and has there ever been a more charming, more relaxed performance of it than pianist Clifford Curzon's 1957 recording with members of the Vienna Octet?

Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote his Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667, in 1819, when he was only nineteen; however, it never saw publication until 1829, a year after his death. Popularly known as "The Trout" because of its fourth-movement variations on a song of that name Schubert had written earlier, the piece has become one of Schubert's most-loved and most-admired compositions the world over.

It begins with an Allegro vivace in sonata form, with a harmonic development that's slow at first but becomes quicker. Curzon and his friends offer up a wonderfully easygoing yet spirited and spontaneous performance. This sounds like the kind of reading the young Schubert and his friends might enjoy listening to themselves of an evening.

Next is an Andante, which under Curzon comes across quite serenely. It's lovely, one of the most beautifully played you'll find in any recording of the work.

In the center of the work is the Scherzo: Presto. Here, we get a dynamic presentation, with Curzon and his fellow musicians adopting a fairly quick pace, a nice contrast to the calm of the previous movement.

Then we get the Andantino - Allegretto, the theme and variations on Schubert's lied Die Forelle ("The Trout"). Common to other variations the composer wrote, these variations don't actually change the original song into anything new or thematically different; instead, they rely on embellishments of the melody and variances of mood. Curzon takes the variations elegantly, with refined, stylish support from his fellow players.

The finale is an Allegro giusto, which Curzon and company take more leisurely than most other ensembles. Still, it's wholly in character with the rest of the reading, providing a sweet, lyrical end to their interpretation.

As a companion piece, the disc contains Schubert's little fragment, the String Trio in B flat major, D. 471, another piece of felicitous music. Here, we find Willi Boskovsky on violin, Rudolf Streng on viola, and Robert Scheiwein on cello offering a delightful rendition of the music.

Decca recorded "The Trout" and the String Trio at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, in 1957 and 1964 respectively. The objection I've always had to the sound of Decca's own LP and CD transfers of "The Trout" is that they tended toward the thin, brittle, noisy side. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), which remasters older, public-domain material from tapes and LP's, have eliminated most of the background noise and tamed the string tone. In doing so, they have also diminished some of the recording's sparkle, but it seems a reasonable trade-off. Therefore, while the sonics are still not of the highest possible quality, they are quite easy on the ear, with good range, body, and impact. The overall aural picture on the HDTT is now mostly warm and mellow, the piano a little more recessed into the ensemble, more a part of the group than ever before. It's a definite improvement.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa