Schubert: Piano Quintet in A, “The Trout” (SACD review)

Also, Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A. The Beaux Arts Trio (augmented) and the Grumiaux Quartet (augmented). PentaTone Classics 5186 121.

Although Schubert’s “Trout” was probably the first piece of chamber music I ever fell in love with, I had never had a particular preference for any one recording until the appearance of this Beaux Arts rendition originally released by Philips in the mid Seventies. Then everything changed; the first time I listened to the augmented Trio’s sublime performance, I had to listen to it again and again. And then again.

The composer got his inspiration for the “Trout” Piano Quintet in part from a song he had written, aptly titled “The Trout,” and in part from an earlier quintet by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Schubert’s friend, Albert Stadler, wrote years later that Schubert composed his quintet “at the special request of my friend Sylvester Paumgartner, who was absolutely delighted in the delicious little song.” At his wish the quintet had to preserve the structure and instrumentation of the Hummel quintet, recte Septet, which at that time was still new. Schubert soon finished it; the score he retained himself.” In any case, Schubert really only quoted the song in the many variations of the fourth movement, yet the whole thing is a delight from beginning to end, filled with the kind of melodies you go away humming for days (or in some cases, like mine, a lifetime).

With Menahem Pressler, piano, Isidore Cohen, violin, Bernard Greenhouse, cello, Samuel Rodes, viola, and Georg Hortnagel, double bass, the Beaux Arts Trio and friends play the “Trout” with infinite skill, warmth, and affection. Yes, there are faster, more exciting versions available and more historically informed versions as well, but there are no more charming, more delightful versions you can buy. It’s appealing in every category by which one may judge music, a true classic of the recording catalogue.

With the PentaTone reissue, the coupling this time out is Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, with George Pieterson on clarinet and violinist Arthur Grumiaux’s Quartet. Philips recorded it in 1974, a year earlier than the Schubert but in the same Concertgebouw location, so both works have a similar sound, round and soft and faintly glowing. The Mozart is fine, of course, but I miss Death and the Maiden, the coupling on Philips’s own second CD release of the “Trout.” Naturally, either coupling is better than that of the original LP, which was none.

The folks at PentaTone remind us that both selections on their disc derive from the era of quadraphonics, when Philips and others were testing the four-channel waters. Philips wound up shelving the idea and just releasing the two-channel stereo versions on vinyl, but now we have them in four discrete channels if you have the SACD playback equipment to listen to them that way. I listened only to the disc’s SACD stereo layer on this hybrid multichannel/stereo disc. Interestingly, I found the sound of PentaTone’s “Trout” slightly different from that found on the Philips disc, the stereo versions most likely mastered differently. The first Silver Line Philips mastering of the “Trout” was a little bright and hard, and it overemphasized the violin. The second Philips mastering improved the situation, and this new PentaTone is better still at making the sound smoother and more agreeable. The snag is that if you don’t own an SACD player, you might not want to pay the extra money for the small improvement in straight stereo sound. Six of one....

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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