Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio in E?,
Piano Sonata in A,
op. 120 (D 664)
Trio Opus 100
SOLO MUSICA 145 (68:38)
Schubert’s E?-Major Trio has been receiving lots of attention on disc lately. Within the last two years, two recordings of the piece made my annual Want List—one with Lars Vogt and Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff in 2008; the other, with the Icicle Creek Trio in 2009. More recently, in
34:1, I gave a warm welcome to a performance by the Trio Portici; and in 34:2, not such a warm welcome to a performance by the Smetana Trio. Other relatively recent entries from the Trio Wanderer, Frank Braley with the Capuçon brothers, and the Storioni Trio have also been reviewed in these pages by colleagues; and entries not so recent by trusted standbys—such as Ashkenazy/Zukerman/Harrell, Istomin/Stern/Rose, Rubinstein/Szeryng/Fournier, and the Beaux Arts, Vienna, Stuttgart, Abegg, Melos, and Florestan ensembles increase one’s options to the point of making choice difficult.
The reason for such a glut of recordings is understandable. If I were to pick the three greatest piano trios ever composed, they would be Beethoven’s “Archduke,” Schubert’s E?-Major, and Shostakovich’s E Minor. Piano trios populate the repertoire in great numbers, and many are of striking beauty, but these three achieve a combination of flawless craftsmanship, perfection of form, and depth of emotional expression that in my opinion are unsurpassed. They also have one other thing in common: At the center of each is a slow movement in quest of the mystery that lies beyond.
The Trio Opus 100 is a multinational ensemble composed of award-winning pianist Oliver Schnyder, a student of Leon Fleisher and Ruth Laredo; Russian violinist Marina Yakovleva, who studied with Pierre Amoyal and has concertized as a soloist and chamber musician in Europe and the U.S.; and German cellist Claudius Herrmann, a protégé of David Geringas, who, since 1991, has served as principal cellist in the Zurich Opera Orchestra. How the three met and decided to form a piano trio is not addressed by the booklet notes, but this appears to be their first and so far only recording as an established ensemble. To say that with this album they have hit the jackpot or made a hole-in-one on their first try might be a bit of an overstatement, but without question, this performance of Schubert’s E?-Major Trio ranks high beside the Icicle Creek and Tetzlaff/Vogt readings that made my earlier Want Lists.
The Andante con moto movement at the heart of this work is so sensitive to tempo that just one or two metronome notches in either direction can make or break a performance. Not
enough and the movement loses its premonitory edge; too
and it loses its tragic tread. In this regard, the movement bears a certain similarity to the funeral-like march movement in Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. Look at some of the respective timings: Stern/Rose/Istomin, 9:39; Icicle Creek, 9:40; Tetzlaff/Vogt, 9:41; the Beaux Arts, 9:42; the Trio Wanderer, 9:42. All are within three seconds of each other and right on the money. I’d say that establishes a consensus if not a standard. The Florestan Trio at 8:30 is way too fast. The ensemble “adopts crisp tempos and a style that could be characterized as somewhat cool and no-nonsense”—this, according to Susan Kagan in 26:4. I have the recording and I agree; it’s one of my least favorite. At the other end of the spectrum, Ashkenazy, Zukerman, and Harrell at 10:28 are simply too slow, ignoring the
, and turning the movement into a sentimental schmaltz-fest.
So where does the Trio Opus 100 come in? At 9:08, exactly the same as the Gryphon Trio on Analekta, the ensemble pushes the envelope. The tempo is not as fast as that taken by the Florestan, but it’s a bit quicker, without quite sounding rushed, than I would prefer to hear it. A mitigating factor, however, is the glorious tone of Herrmann’s 1600 Giovanni Paolo Maggini cello and his exceptionally expressive phrasing.
The first and third movements, with repeats taken, are very well done. The players are alert to each other’s phrasing inflections and the score’s dynamics, resulting in a fluid, well-integrated, and balanced performance. My only real complaint—and it should be lodged against Schubert rather than faulting the Trio Opus 100 for heeding the composer’s ill-advised directive—is that the lengthy repeat in the last movement is observed, stretching it out to almost 19 minutes. Not chancing to put their audience into a catatonic state, few ensembles risk taking this tedious and tiresome repeat, which contains material made up of highly repetitive patterns, a Schubert trademark familiar from his “Great C-Major” Symphony. None of the above-cited ensembles have the chutzpah to take this repeat, so perhaps we should give the Trio Opus 100 extra points for daring us to persevere. Wasn’t it at the first public performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony that a man in the audience stood up and cried, “I’d pay another kreutzer if the damn thing would only stop?” Aside from this one matter of the last movement exhausting my patience, I’d have to give this latest version of one of Schubert’s greatest masterpieces very high marks.
The so-called “Little” A-Major Sonata (to distinguish it from the composer’s penultimate A-Major Sonata, D 959) that fills out the disc is an amiable and enchanting work. I’ve long had a favorite recording of the piece, and it’s the one by Claudio Arrau. There’s something about the insouciant innocence of the opening melody, like an easygoing amble down a country lane lined by peaceful meadows, that Arrau captures instantly with a combination of gait, phrasing, and tone. No other pianist has ever made quite the same impression on me, and I regret to say that Oliver Schnyder doesn’t, either. He plays the piece in a rather straightforward and impatient manner, technically adroit but emotionally adrift. The sonata was recorded in 2001, the trio in 2009.
Obviously, the main interest of this release is the trio, and for that the disc is recommended, though it doesn’t unseat my previously cited favorites.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 664/Op. 120 by Franz Schubert
Trio Opus 100
Written: 1819/1825; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 06/17/2001
Venue: Radiostudio, Zürich
Length: 18 Minutes 44 Secs.
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