JWR Articles: CD - Franz Schubert: The Piano Trios (Featured performers: Joseph Kalichstein, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson) - June 23, 2012

Franz Schubert: The Piano Trios

4 4
138 min.

A marvellous array of heavenly lengths

This generous two-disc set is a wonderful reminder of just how compelling imaginatively handled tonality can be and an aural snapshot of a composer’s early output sitting side by side with his fully mature works.

The Allegro moderato of the B-flat major Trio proves yet again how important it is to observe exposition repeats. As good as the initial measures are, there’s a touch of tentativeness that more or less vanishes on the second go around (the curiosity of the recording is that Joseph Kalichstein’s superb pianism comes across somewhat distant and occasionally muddy—a deficiency that is thankfully overcome in later tracks). In the development the musical sparks fire on all cylinders, yielding snap, crackle and pop ensemble judiciously balanced by the longer legato lines. The only quibble (we continue to become greedy with this level of artistry) comes from the absence of unanimity as the underpinning chordal architecture is resolved.

The ideal tempo (so rare to find, much less maintain) permeates the Andante un poco mosso. Cellist Sharon Robinson sings Schubert’s poignant song with obvious love and finesse, if infusing the result with an overabundance of portamenti to my taste (leaving it to Kalichstein to offer the purest rendition of the line that so wonderfully morphs into the coming Trio’s liquid gold).  The Scherzo is an unqualified gem with violinist Jaime Laredo in tip-top short-long form throughout.

One is hardly aware that three instrumentalists are combing their talents in the spirited finale—such a meeting of the minds being as welcome as spring rain. The combined pizzicati give Kalichstein an ideal bed of sound to let him produce a vrai pianissimo; the string legato, chord informed sixteenths will have many listeners expecting the landscape to shift seamlessly into Brahms’ “adieu” in his Third Symphony.

It is hard to imagine a more distinguished performance of the Nottourno. There is so much music in these few minutes that the movement can truly stand on its own. How magical that the key shift into E major was preceded by the trio’s unison, where the apparently theoretical shift from C-flat to B-natural could actually be felt, thanks to Schubert’s unerring ability to take his time and the ensemble’s shared empathy for the master’s intent. Merci mille fois!

What fun to close off the first disc with the pubescent composer’s first attempt in the genre. Having just experienced the sublime, it is most instructive to hear the emerging creator’s joy of discovery, notably in the impish closing section where there’s a palpable feeling of “Yes, I can do this too.” The frequent flavour of Mozart’s Les petits riens only adds to the notion of a shared art, lovingly handed down.

Op. 100—at times orchestral in scope—is a marvel of invention (avoiding the too easily varied, arpeggio-driven first subject in the “working out”), lingering passion (the melodic line of the Andante con moto receives a much welcome encore in the single-pulse, frequently time-changing Allegro moderato) and return of an old friend (the first movement’s development takes its quieter moments’ accompaniments from Schubert’s magical A-flat major Impromptu—D. 899—albeit in triplet form).

Everyone gives their all, resulting in a performance that could scarcely be improved, save and except for a bit more lift in staccato/accented eighths (Andante, which finishes up with an unforgettable reluctant “adieu”) and more consistently dry quarters in the Scherzo—all the better to truly play even before repeated A-flats morph their way to E major!

Nonetheless, the busiest passages of the closing frame succinctly demonstrate what unabashed exuberance must sound like, leaving any listener hoping for more.

Robinson and Kalichstein serve up their performance of the “Arpeggione” Sonata with a heady combination of mystery and affection. The former’s changes of register are nothing short of divine while the latter’s instinctive sensitivity allows the cello to shine brightly as each of the varied sections unfolds with confidence, logic and beautifully sculpted lines. JWR

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Recording Engineer - Adam Abeshouse
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898 - Franz Schubert
Notturno in E-flat Major, D. 897
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, "Sonatensatz," D. 28
Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929
Sonata in A Minor for Arpeggione and Piano
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