Schubert: Trout Quintet (CD review)

Also, Adagio in E flat (Notturno). The Nash Ensemble. CRD 3352.

Does it sound familiar? No, I don’t ask that because the “Trout” Quintet is one of the most-popular and therefore familiar things Schubert ever wrote. I mean if this particular recording of the “Trout” sounds familiar, it might be because if you watch at least some British comedy, the British television series Waiting for God used portions of this very recording during its opening titles and closing credits. CRD originally released it over three decades ago, and they decided to reissue it in 2012.

Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote the Piano Quintet in A major, D667, “The Trout,” in the summer of 1819 while visiting the town of Steyr in the north of Austria. A wealthy music patron in the area, Sylvester Paumgartner, suggested Schubert include in the music a set of variations based on the composer’s earlier song "Die Forelle" (“The Trout”). But apparently few people outside Schubert’s friends and family ever heard it in his lifetime since the work did not see publication until 1829, a year after the composer’s death. Nevertheless, today practically every chamber group in the world has played and recorded “The Trout” Quintet.

Britain’s Nash Ensemble quintet at the time of the recording (Clifford Benson, piano; Marcia Crayford, violin; Brian Hawkins, viola; Christopher van Kampen, cello; and Rodney Slatford, double bass) do as good a job with the music as almost anyone. In terms of tempos, they fall somewhere between the period-instruments liveliness of Jos Van Immerseel and friends (Sony or Newton Classics) and the easygoing geniality of Clifford Curzon and his Vienna partners (Decca). In terms of style, the Nash players combine some of the charm of the Beaux Arts performance (Philips or PentaTone), some of the joyfulness of the Schiff/Hagen Quartet recording (Decca), and some of the richness of Alfred Brendel’s rendition (Philips) thrown in. Meaning the Nash Ensemble is in good company.

The group get the music off to a smooth, graceful, flowing start in the first movement, yet with much freshness and vitality as well. Schubert marked it Allegro vivace, so I suppose the Nash players could have taken it a bit faster, but, really, it sounds just fine as they perform it, full of gentle good cheer. The second-movement Andante is more sedate and serious than the first movement, with the Nash Ensemble maintaining a serene sense of forward momentum, never pushing the music too hard.  It’s all quite comfortable.

The third-movement Scherzo displays a pleasantly youthful playfulness, again without leaving the listener groping for air. Then come the celebrated Variations, which mark the “Trout” as somewhat different from other chamber pieces, the Nash Ensemble having the fish splashing and gliding about in the stream most gently. Again, it’s the piano that stands out, as we would expect, with the violin coming in a close second. Finally, the work ends with an Allegro giusto that the Nash players perform with high spirits.

The little Notturno (Adagio in E flat for piano, violin and cello, D897), published in 1847, makes a sweet companion to the “Trout.” Schubert probably intended the Notturno as the slow movement of a larger work, which he never got around to finishing. In any case, it’s lovely, with to me its unmistakable Mediterranean overtones, and I enjoyed the Nash Ensemble’s unmannered interpretation of it.

CRD recorded the album in 1978 at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London, under the watchful eyes and ears of balance engineer Bob Auger. The sound comes across pretty well balanced, although the piano seems at times closer than the other instruments. Midrange transparency is fairly good, too, with a particularly natural-sounding violin and a warm, ambient bloom on all the music. The frequency response appears slightly subdued at the top end, and the double bass hasn’t a lot of weight. Still, it’s all pleasant enough and reasonably lifelike.

In short, the Nash Ensemble’s “Trout” offers a good performance in good sound, both of which come up a tad short of the very best recordings available, sounding just a trifle too straightforward and unadorned by comparison. In addition, CRD provides one of the best album cover pictures you’ll find. Drawbacks? Only one stands out: For reasons known only to CRD, the company chose not to provide a separate track for the fifth and final movement. So if you want to listen only to the Finale, you have to click to the fourth movement and then fast-forward through almost eight minutes of music until you get to the part you want. Of the half dozen other “Trout” recordings I had on hand, all of them include a track for the final movement. I dunno.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa