Schubert: Piano Trio in B flat, D898; Piano Trio in E flat, D929

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Symphonia
WORKS: Piano Trio in B flat, D898; Piano Trio in E flat, D929
PERFORMER: Voces Intimae
CATALOGUE NO: SY 99172
Schubert’s two piano trios on a single disc, even at the cost of several important repeats, may seem an attractive proposition. But despite enjoyable moments, neither of these performances is a serious contender in a crowded field. One problem is the balance. In a performance on period instruments there’s always the danger of the fortepiano being upstaged by the strings, especially the violin. And in sustained melodies the fragile, bell-like treble of the restored 19th-century Graf fails to tell sufficiently against over-prominent accompanying string figures. As partial compensation, in the rustic polonaise in the B flat’s finale and the cimbalom imitations in the finale of the E flat the fortepiano creates delicious effects unrealisable on a modern grand.

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Balance apart, both the scherzos are appealingly done, the one in the E flat almost fastidious in its delicacy. But elsewhere these Italian players are short on fantasy and rhythmic imagination: the soaring first theme of the B flat, one of the most exhilarating openings in all chamber music, here sounds dogged rather than winged, with textures cluttered and beats too evenly stressed, while the sublime cello solos in both Andantes are dusty-toned and unalluringly phrased. If you want the Schubert trios on period instruments, another Italian group, La Gaia Scienza (on two separate discs from Winter & Winter), is better balanced and far more invigorating. On modern instruments the classic Beaux Arts Sixties versions (Philips) are still front-runners. But in both trios my vote would go to the wonderfully vital and subtle performances led by András Schiff, which sometimes make even the Beaux Arts sound a shade sober by comparison.

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Richard Wigmore