on 9 August 2013
The gentle melancholy of the "Trout" quintet is beautifully realized here by Andras Schiff and members of the Hagen Quartet. The final two movements almost seem to be one longer movement with a unity of expression between them that is most compelling, to the extent that the themes of the final movement have the feel of being further-flung variations of the "Trout" theme itself. The lower strings are particularly effective in these movements, and Schiff's lucid and un-plushy Bosendorfer sound is ideal. The earlier movements had the feel of a Dumka before Dvorak, with their alternation of more assertive and more quiet sections -- but it's the melancholy character that wins out and gives this performance its particular force. The recording was made in 1983 and is beautifully recorded and balanced. The "Moments Musicaux" was recorded seven years later in a different venue and with (I would venture) a different piano. Its sound is less focussed than that of the "Trout" piano, and it has an attractively wiry timbre. Schiff plays these pieces beautifully, and if the sound is a bit less rich than, say, Brendel's 1987 account, that's not a matter for concern. Schiff's account works beautifully on its own terms.
This recording of the Trout was first issued in 1984 and offers excellent sound of ideal definition, good balance and tonal range. The recording of the Moments Musicaux was made several years later at the end of the 1980's and lacks that sheer clarity and aural focus that the earlier recording had. This will concern some listeners more than others and much will depend on their sonic expectations and the replay equipment used.
The musical values are universally excellent throughout though and will be sufficient for many listeners to ignore any recording reservations.
The Hagen Quartet is here joined by Alois Posch on double bass. The Hagen's are well known for their technical expertise and their scrupulous taste when it comes to interpretive issues. In particular they regularly offer precision and clarity so that interpretive points can be made without labouring the situation. Schiff, as a pianist, is an ideal partner in so far as he is particularly known for his classicist style of playing in this repertoire combining a clarity of thought with clarity of execution. What they present here as an ensemble is playing of clarity without sterility, poise and grace without stiffness and a real sense of interpretive direction. These are agreed main ingredients of the Classical Period of course and are still appropriate for an early Romantic such as Schubert who was himself so well grounded in the Classical heritage.
Like many other avid collectors of recordings over many years, there have been many recordings acquired of the Trout to be found on the shelves, several of which have since departed. This recording by the Hagens and Schiff is the one that is frequently chosen as the preferred choice, there being no such thing as a 'best' recording of such core repertoire. The same applies to the solo piano pieces and Schiff's version simply joins so many others of great distinction.
At this point it must be mentioned that Euroarts have now remastered Schiff's visual recording of the 'Moments' for Metropolitan Munich from 1989. This, with its companion DVD is a noticeably successful disc and offers the chance to see as well as hear Schiff playing these works plus the Impromptus at a moderate price and with good visuals and sound.
I would finally suggest that the CD above is of such quality and lasting value as to make it worthy of serious consideration as a purchase. Another option to consider as regards the solo piano music is the Euroarts DVD which may offer purchasers a further extension and possibly an additional attractive option.
on 6 August 2012
I heard this version of The Trout on BBC Radio 3 recently during a session of casual "background" listening. It grabbed my attention and moved to "foreground" listening. I already owned what is considered one the the best ever versions of The Trout available (Curzon et al). However, before the radio extract had finished I decided I must have it. It seemed to have sparkle, honesty, presence and precision that came together in this recording to make it exceptional. No wonder the guest on Radio 3 chose it as his favourite...it could be mine too.
A Gold Star too for the BBC, for great Stereo FM broadcast quality...who needs DAB?