Schubert: Trios; Sonate Arpeggione; Fantaisie / Trio Dali
Number of Discs:
2 Hours 16 Mins.
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Anyone who doubts the possibility of perfection in musical performance, prepare to have your doubts dispelled. Without hesitation, I hereby pronounce the Trio Dali’s performances of Schubert’s two great piano trios the most detailed, the most revealing, and the best I’ve ever heard—in a word, perfect.
That I should find myself making such a pronouncement is doubly surprising, for (1) until I’d received this set, unsolicited, in the mail, I’d never heard of the Trio Dali; and (2) Schubert’s trios have been especially lucky on disc, especially the No. 2 in E?-Major, two recordings of which made my Want Lists in two consecutive years: Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff with Lars Vogt in 2008 and the
Icicle Creek Trio in 2009. More recently, I had words of praise for the Portici Trio in
Only one very recent entry from the Narziss and Goldmund Piano Trio in 34:6 earned my scorn for performing what I now believe to be the original, unrevised version of the score’s last movement, which prattles on for a disfigured 15 and a half minutes. But that was a mere misdemeanor compared to the herein documented Vienna Schubert Trio’s offense of stretching the movement out to a soul-sucking 20 and a half minutes, but more on that later. First, I wish to address these surpassingly beautiful performances by the Trio Dali.
Judging from the booklet’s group photo, the Trio Dali’s members—Vineta Sareika, violin; Christian-Pierre La Marca, cello; and Amandine Savary, piano—look like college preppies, yet this Brussels-based ensemble has been active for the better half of a decade; has been awarded numerous prestigious chamber music prizes; has toured Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the U.S.; and has made at least one prior recording I know of, a disc of works by Ravel, also for Fuga Libera.
Everything about the Trio Dali’s Schubert is carefully considered, thoughtfully judged, and exquisitely executed, from tempos, dynamics, phrasing, projection, and ensemble balance, to a beauty of tone that radiates with equal warmth from all the instruments. But there’s something more in these performances, something deeply communicative that cuts right to the bone, and it’s not always something you will find in the notes Schubert put down on the page. Everywhere, there are little expressive gestures that divulge new secrets about familiar passages. Listen, for example, in the first movement of the E?-Major Trio to how the violin breaks the chord at measure 98, lending just that little bit of extra emphasis after the rest to Schubert’s
Granted, this is just one very small point, but throughout the entire score, the Trio Dali probes with such heightened sensitivity of ear for the subtlest ripples in the vastness of the music’s space that places of void in other performances become filled with the twinkling of myriad stars.
The cello takes center stage to deliver the opening melody in the incomparably beautiful second movement of the same trio. No
execution taints the dotted-eighth tied to two 16ths in the second half of the fifth measure, played with refreshing exactitude by Christian-Pierre La Marca. The ensemble’s tempo is exactly right, just
enough to emphasize the movement’s tragic tread, but
enough to allow breath for the rhythmic chant to mourn.
Needless to say, the Dali players take the first-movement exposition repeat, but thankfully not the excised repeat in the finale. It’s not their fault that even observing Schubert’s own well-advised cuts the movement still trundles on for 13:45. As Michel Stockhem notes in his excellent booklet essay, the finale “is inordinately long, to the point that Schubert made some consequential cuts in the development [some 100 bars in addition to eliminating the repeat—my editorial comment], generally respected nowadays.” To which I would add, too little too late. The thing is still too long by half, but the Trio Dali is to be commended for keeping one’s spirits up with playing that’s buoyant and upbeat. Time, of course, as Einstein told us, is relative, and any ensemble that can make this movement go by as quickly as the Dali seems to deserves a special award.
Everything I’ve said about the Dali’s E?-Major Trio applies equally to its B?-Major companion. This is just an exceptional ensemble that plays with a refinement and interpretive insight that rise above the virtues of even the best piano trios I’ve extolled in these pages. And if it were not enough that these performances of Schubert’s trios were of such perfection, each disc in the set is complemented by an equally delectable performance of a Schubert duo featuring the Dali’s string players in a solo capacity with the ensemble’s outstanding pianist, Amandine Savary. Cellist La Marca joins Savary on disc 1 in Schubert’s wonderfully melodious Arpeggione Sonata, while violinist Vineta Sareika teams up with Savary for a jolly good run through the composer’s C-Major Fantasy for violin and piano on disc 2. Add to this a recording that is alive with electrical sparks and a beautifully appointed multilingual booklet, and you have not just one of my last-minute 2011 Want List entries, but my pick for chamber music release of the year.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Trio Dali have followed their earlier recording of Ravel with a new recording of the Schubert Piano Trios. With these they have included the
Arpeggione sonata, D. 821, and the C major Fantaisie, D. 934, works that allow the string players to show off their solo wares. Combining these less well known works with Schubert’s two masterpieces of the form works well both in varying the program, and in making the achievements of the trios even more evident.
The Schubert Piano Trios are late works. They date from 1827, the year that also saw the composition of the song-cycle
Winterreise, the Impromptus for piano and the Fantaisie for piano and violin, included in this set. The first trio is the more classical of the two. The second trio is somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven’s
Archduke trio in its almost symphonic dimensions and thematic richness; the Olympian simplicity of Beethoven’s work also has an echo in this trio. Schubert wrote them for the Schuppanzigh-Linke-Bocklet trio, members of which had given the premieres of most of the Beethoven string quartets and trios. This was obviously a distinguished group, and the Schubert trios are works that require a virtuoso ensemble.
Trio Dali opens their account somewhat unexpectedly with the second trio. One notices immediately their care in avoiding heftiness when playing chords; where other trios land heavily on the double stops, the Dali players integrate them smoothly into the cadences. The dynamics are carefully graduated throughout the phrases. The long climaxes are approached strategically; the ensemble doesn’t hit its straps too soon, leaving it playing flat out for long periods. The tempo is extremely well chosen, with a pulse that never flags; rhythms are nicely pointed, and the sound sparkles. The second movement features a sensitively shaped cello solo, which is not played too legato. The passionate climaxes are again very well built up, and the return of the theme at the end over ghostly pizzicatos is superbly managed. The Scherzando is not taken too fast, but has a gentle, quite pastoral approach. The trio is more bucolic with fine spiccato playing from the violin. The finale is gracefully played; the ornamentation is not unduly emphasised. The interplay between the string players is beautifully done, and the piano never overpowers their contributions. There is a delightful accuracy about the playing; rests, for example, are always given their full value. However there is never anything pedantic or finicky about it. There is a consistent sense of discovery and freshness about the music-making. This is a really well thought through and beautifully realised performance.
The Beaux Arts Trio recorded the Schubert trios in the 1960s. The recording is closer than the Dali set, and the pizzicatos come across more clearly; there is the occasional sound of a bow stick on the strings. The Beaux Arts are distinctly quicker in the first movement (12:38 versus 16:11), and about a minute faster in the Finale. The string players tend to come down more heavily on the chords; the performance has abundant warmth, but sounds a little unrefined after Trio Dali.
The first disc of this set concludes with a performance of the
Arpeggione sonata D. 821, played by the trio’s cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca. This work was originally written for the arpeggione, a hybrid instrument that was a cross between a cello and a guitar. It is a pleasant and melodic but rather meandering work in three movements. La Marca gives a performance that easily surmounts its technical demands. He is a relaxed-sounding player; his sound is not large, but it is produced without apparent effort. La Marca’s intonation is immaculate and his playing is extremely clean, with very few expressive slides. He shapes the abundant melodies carefully, with well contoured dynamics. The fast arpeggios and repeated notes in the finale are done with great clarity and neatness. Only the penultimate chord sounds a little abrupt. He is sensitively accompanied by the trio’s pianist Amandine Savary.
Mstislav Rostropovich’s 1968 recording of this work accompanied by Benjamin Britten is a classic. Rostropovich and Britten slow more markedly than La Marca and Savary; they take 13:34 for the first movement, as against 11:29. Their performance is more dramatic in character compared to La Marca’s, which has a classical restraint. Rostropovich’s sound is characteristically generous, and the pizzicatos come across more clearly. He plays this work with a relaxed charm, and Britten’s accompaniment fits like a glove. This recording has been re-issued in the Decca Legends series (460 974-2) together with the Schumann Five pieces in folk style and the Debussy Sonata. La Marca and Savary stand up well to this comparison, however, and the placement of the work after the trio allows one to relax after the more strenuous pages of D.898.
The second disc in the Trio Dali set contains the first Piano Trio and the violin Fantaisie. The Trio opens in ebullient fashion, with more sensitive interplay between the strings. Their approach seems a little more vigorous in this Trio than in the second. The pulse is well maintained, as before, but the violinist’s tone becomes unattractive over forte. La Marca judges the cello tune in the second movement to perfection, avoiding sentimental slides. The third movement has a measured pace, but the rhythm is alert and the dynamics are carefully shaped. The nostalgic trio fades away beautifully to a thread. The finale is genial, with some delightful off-bow playing from the violinist. Trio Dali gets a lot of things right in this performance, but it is not quite as well controlled as their account of the second Trio.
The Beaux Arts Trio is again faster in the first movement, by a whopping four minutes (10:38 as against 14:35). The timings for the rest of the movements were a lot closer, differing only by a few seconds. After Trio Dali they again sound lacking in finesse, particularly as regards their dynamic shaping. The pianist Menahem Pressler seems to dominate his ensemble more than Amandine Savary does hers.
The disc concludes with the Fantaisie in C major for violin and piano, D 934. This is an exploratory, rather uneven work in four movements. The first movement is particularly attractive, with the violinist stealing in over a shimmering accompaniment. This and the third movements recall the atmosphere of the Notturno for piano trio, which was probably intended to be the slow movement of the first Trio. The faster second and fourth movements require considerable agility from the violinist. The work is very adeptly played by Vineita Sareika, and Amandine Savary again provides a discreet and unselfish accompaniment.
Trio Dali’s performance of the second Schubert Piano Trio sets a new standard for sensitive and refined ensemble playing in this repertoire. At the same time their playing remains lively and expressive. The performance of the first Trio falls a little below this standard, but they make up for this with enjoyable readings of the
Arpeggione and Violin Fantaisie. The recording isn’t too close and there is a good balance between the piano and the string instruments.
-- Guy Aron, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Arpeggione in A minor, D 821 by Franz Schubert
Written: 1824; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 01/2011-02/2011
Venue: Brussels, Flagey, Studio 4
Length: 25 Minutes 28 Secs.
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