Schubert: "Trout" Quintet (CD review)

Also, Piano Trio "Notturno"; Standchen; Ave Maria. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; Daniil Trifonov, piano; Hwayoon Lee, viola; Maximilian Hornung, cello; Roman Patkolo, double bass. DG 00289 7570.

What's not to like? You've got one of the world's most-popular virtuosic violinists, Anne-Sophie Mutter, in the lead, supported by the equally popular piano virtuoso Daniil Trifonov and three soloists from the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation: Hwayoon Lee, viola; Maximilian Hornung, cello; and Roman Patkolo, double bass. Then you've got some of the world's most-popular chamber music, Schubert's "Trout" Quintet and several other delightful short pieces.

So, what's not to like? Well, some listeners may love the performance, regarding it as sparkling, while others may see it as a tad too fast and commonplace. Still other listeners may find DG's sound detailed and well focused, while others may see it as too big and close up. Like all things, one must give the recording a listen before forming an opinion about it.

The album begins with the Piano Quintet in A major "The Trout" by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). He wrote it 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 the composer include in the music a set of variations based on his earlier song "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). But apparently few people outside Schubert's friends and family ever heard the finished product in Schubert's 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 it.

The work begins with an Allegro vivace, full of gentle good cheer. The second-movement Andante is more sedate and serious than the first movement. The third-movement Scherzo displays a pleasantly youthful playfulness. After that come the celebrated Variations, which mark the "Trout" as somewhat different from other chamber pieces. Here, it's the piano that often stands out, with the violin coming in a close second. Finally, the work ends with an Allegro giusto of high spirits.

Anne-Sophie Mutter
In the first movement, Ms. Mutter and the others must set some kind of record for pacing. Even the period-instrument versions I've heard don't zip along quite so fast. Not that this is bad, but for a piece of music with such charm as "The Trout," you'd think that a more leisurely approach might have been more appropriate. The speed with which Ms. Mutter takes it does, however, give ample display to her talents and an ample demonstration of a quick and lively Allegro.

In the Andante, things slow down appreciably, which is to say, the players take it at more conventional speeds, and it sounds all the more engaging for it. This also gives us a better chance to hear the contributions of all the players without Ms. Mutter dominating the proceedings. The Scherzo displays plenty of zest, although the fun seems a little forced and the whole thing a bit foursquare. The Variations are probably the best part of the show, and even though the players take them fairly fast, they exhibit a genuine delight. The expressive dynamics, contrasts, and pauses contribute to this effect. Then, in the Finale Ms. Mutter and the group appear warmer and more affectionate than in most of the preceding movements, and it comes off nicely.

Because there must be hundreds of different recordings of "The Trout," the listener has a multitude of choices. My own preferences include the sweetly lyrical one by the augmented Beaux Arts Trio (Pentatone or Philips), the spry period-instrument version by Jos Van Immerseel et al (Sony), and others by the Hagen Quartet (Decca), Sir Clifford Curzon (HDTT or Decca), the Nash Ensemble (CRD), Alfred Brendel (Philips), and many others. How does this one by Ms. Mutter and company stack up? It's fine and will no doubt please Ms. Mutter's fans, but I wouldn't personally put it at the top of my list of recommendations. The competition is just too strong, and Ms. Mutter and friends sound just a bit too commonplace for my liking, despite the alacrity of their playing.

In addition, the album includes three short works: The Piano Trio n E flat major "Notturno" and two arrangements for violin and piano of Standchen D957/4 ("Leise flehen meine Lieder") and the ever-popular "Ave Maria." Lovely.

Executive producer Ute Fesquet, producer and engineer Bernhard Guttler, and engineer Philip Krause recorded the music for Emil Berliner Studios at Baden-Baden, Festspielhaus, in June 2017. In the quintet and trio the instruments are spread widely and closely across the sound stage, with the piano set somewhat farther back than the strings. It's not an unrealistic image but one slightly bigger than I expected. The instruments sound rich and warm, never bright or edgy. No serious complaints.


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

No comments:

Post a Comment

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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa