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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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