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