The gimmick here is the coupling of a modern piano quintet, Thomas Ades’s 2001 piece, with a traditional piano quintet, Schubert’s 1819 “Trout.” In theory, the disc’s producers want us to hear, uh, I’m not sure what. How much alike they are? They aren’t. How much different they are? That goes without saying. How each composer was trying out something new and different? More likely.
In his booklet essay, writer Tom Service tries valiantly to make some comparisons between the two works. He says of Ades’s newer quintet, “...the architecture of the piece grows out of the transformations of its material. And in re-staging the challenges of sonata form, the Piano Quintet does not just articulate a contemporary creative perspective; it represents a vivid rethinking of the musical past.” He goes on to say of the Schubert Piano Quintet, “Schubert’s forms are no less elusive than Ades’s: the ‘Trout’ quintet is an essay in displacement and unpredictability that finds a contemporary resonance in the slipperiness of Ades’s piece. Both works make the familiar strange, and liquefy traditions in order to reinhabit them.” Yeah, well, maybe.
The fact is, Ades’s Quintet is typically modern, full of wonderfully bizarre sound scapes, fluctuating time schemes, varied pacing, and nary a remarkable melody in sight. It seems fairly lightweight next to the Schubert, something like an orchestra tuning up, but there’s no doubting it holds a fascination all its own, particularly in its cool, sometimes translucently lunar musical landscape. The Schubert goes without saying, of course, filled as it is with one memorable melody after another, flowing in quicksilver fashion.
I have no idea how Ades expects any five people to interpret his quintet, but since the composer himself performs it on the disc, I can only assume it to be authoritative. As for the Schubert, the group interprets it at a fairly brisk tempo, much as another relatively young group contemporaneously recorded it, Frank Braley and friends for Virgin Classics. Both ensembles show a degree of reckless abandon yet never sacrifice the work’s elegant beauty or simplicity. It’s quite engaging.
Insofar as concerns EMI’s recording, it is a tad brighter than most--perhaps a touch more transparent or a touch harder, depending on your point of view and how your equipment plays it back. I found the clarity of the sound nicely complemented the lively performance. This would not be my first choice in the Schubert, in any case, but for the collector it makes a fascinating alternative reading.