Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major “Trout” (CD review)

Also, Variations on “Trockne Blumen”; "Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen." Braley, Capucon, Causse, Capucon, and Posch. Virgin Classics 7243-5-45563-2.

Can there ever be too many recordings of Franz Schubert’s most felicitous work, the “Trout” Quintet? Not when they are as exuberant, as intoxicating, as joyful as the one presented here by pianist Frank Braley, violinist Renard Capucon, violist Gerard Causse, cellist Gautier Capucon, and double-bassist Alois Posch.

Schubert wrote this little gem while vacationing in the town of Steyr in the north of Austria, a town he loved. But he apparently only wrote it for his own and his friends’ amusement because he never published it, and no one ever performed it in public in his lifetime. Still, it has proved enduring, and practically every chamber group in the world has since played and recorded it.

The present recording finds five people performing it who have played it together many times before. Yet unlike so many of the fine, mature recordings of the piece by artists like Brendel, Curzon, Richter, Ax, and the like, it’s a delight to hear what is so consciously a youthful performance by five relatively young, albeit rather well-known, European artists. After all, Schubert wrote it when he was only in his early twenties himself and at a happy time in his life. One might expect as much from its performance.

Almost every movement shows a vigor and cheerfulness that is hard to resist, although, curiously, the final movement, marked “Allegro giusto,” is hardly that. It’s only here that the quintet of players slow down, catch their breath so to speak, and end on a relaxed, though still cheerful note. The easy knock against the performance might be that it’s too glib, too superficial, and that’s true; however, we have to remember that the “Trout” is mostly surface glitz, anyway. If you want profound, try Brendel.

Accompanying the “Trout” is a set of variations on the song “Trockne Blumen” from the composer’s song cycle Die schone Mullerin. Schubert wrote it just a few years before his early death, and it contains more than a passing note of melancholy. The disc concludes with the very brief, very simple, and very beautiful quintet arrangement of “Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen,” another song setting of a poem, this one “celebrating the peace of the soul,” as described by Adelaide de Place in the disc’s informational booklet. It has a delicately expressive “Ave Maria” feel to it, and it’s a shame it lasts less than two minutes.

While the sound is not too spectacular and oddly seems to favor the left side of the stage, it is quiet and well balanced. All in all, I enjoyed this version of the “Trout” when I first heard it, and it continues to please, even if it is not at the top of the pile.

JJP

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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