ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Piano Quintet in A, D667 (Trout); String Trio in B flat, D471; String Trio in B flat, D581
PERFORMER: Leopold String Trio; Graham Mitchell (double bass), Paul Lewis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67527
Schubert’s Trout Quintet is a superb example of home-entertainment music that transcended its modest ambitions and grew into an almost perfect masterpiece. But it’s possible to be too fixated on the romantic sublime element – to forget that it’s also supposed to be good, friendly fun. No modern recording maintains that delicate balance better than Christian Zacharias and the Leipzig Quartet on the Dabringhaus und Grimm label. In comparison this new version is competent – sometimes more than competent – but often flat. Paul Lewis starts well, shaping the piano’s first quiet phrases with refined care. But the mercurial side of Schubert’s complex character, brought out so lovingly by Zacharias, only manages an occasional sparkle in Lewis’s hands. The finale theme’s quirky adventures are surprisingly charmless – and you just can’t have a Trout without charm. On the other side of the emotional coin, the players do attempt to bring out the darker drama of the fourth movement, but the big crescendo in Variation III is a bit crude.
If this review has concentrated on Lewis, that’s because he emerges as the strongest character – apart perhaps from bassist Graham Mitchell. The three upper strings are cultivated enough, and they show more enthusiasm in the Trout than they do in the two early trios, but they still tend to be rather dour. Their use of what appears to be a relatively clean, uncorrupted text in D581 isn’t enough to displace the Leipzigers – a clear recommendation there. Stephen Johnson