on 11 May 2004
Here's yet another thoroughly excellent and enjoyable 5 star Pentatone disc, featuring Philips house stars of the 70's (and long after) the Beaux Arts Trio (in the Schubert) and the Grumiaux trio (in the Mozart).
Starting with the Mozart, this is a perfect example of how the excellent is the enemy of the good. Comparing the near-perfection of this performance to the proficiency of the recent BIS Mozart clarinet SACD puts the latter in a paler, poorer light. Here, the 70's performance has light and shade, joyousness, warmth and a very Viennese seductiveness. It's also, unlike the BIS disc, which pits lone but loud solo clarinettist against one protagonist (a gang of four strings) a real chamber performance: five fine musicians making music together.
The recording does a lot to create this impression. Despite a little too much reverberation, which tends to emphasise background base noises (traffic outside the Concertgebouw?) it generously serves all the players: George Pieterson's clarinet is bright but warm, not spotlit but still lively, and beautifully focussed, Athur Grumiaux's violin is sweet toned and Janos Scholz's cello a real presence. The sound stage is wide, but doesn't stretch outside your room, and the surround speakers (4.0) bring the sound closer to you without any swamping or undue immersion.
With the competing BIS disc (of the Mozart), although the quartet of string players is excellent, the close and narrow recording prevents their performance from being conversational in the lively and affectionate sense it is here.
Like the Mozart, the Schubert quintet has a fair bit of reverberation but must have been recorded later at night because there's less background bass. Again, the surround sound is very immediate, with the piano lifted into the air. Piano sound throughout is strikingly beautiful, crystal clear but also warm and romantic and the double bass really growls in the final movement. Isidore Cohen's violin sings almost as trillingly as the piano and the whole thing is beautiful, but not lacking at all in energy, especially in the last movement. After it's all done you want to join Franz and friends for a saccher torte and coffee and agree that life feels good.