Schubert Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

All round, a flawless account, celebrating a Schubert who is as much the son of Haydn...

Matthew Shorter 2002

In language which would probably have him expelled from a number of university faculties today, Robert Schumann described Schubert's E flat Piano Trio as "spirited, masculine and dramatic" in contrast to his other more "passive, lyrical and feminine" work in the piano, violin and cello genre, the B flat.

You can just about see what he means in the first two movements. The first opens with an assertive gesture of Mozartian simplicity, which, although it subsequently gives way to more gentle material, sets the tone for much of the writing in the movement. The Florestan Trio certainly take their cue from this opening, in a reading which occasionally tends towards the martial in its vigour, regularity, and polish.

The Andante second movement's main theme is a kind of proto-tango, a brooding melody first played by the cello with a wonderfully balletic accompaniment in the piano (the two instruments later swap roles as the piano takes the melody and the violin joins the accompaniment - a trick which often returns throughout the work). Here as in the first movement, the players' modesty is almost self-effacing. The strings take a particularly polite approach, and I found myself longing for the odd lapse of good taste to carry me out of the atmosphere of the Edwardian drawing room.

However, the rigid control of tempo and phrasing pays off in the dramatic climax of the Andante, where a series of tremolos reach an enormous passionate crescendo in a weird corner of the late-Schubert harmonic landscape, and the violence is all the more powerful for the restraint which precedes it.

The Florestan Trio's approach comes into its own in the third movement Scherzo, played with feathery delicacy and real ensemble. The relish lacking across some of the sweeping arcs of the first movement abounds in the playful canons which open the Scherzo, and in the fascinating textures of the trio, drawn out beautifully by the sensitivity of the strings, whose spiccato and selective use of vibrato are particularly striking and effective here.

The structural complexity of the Finale (here presented in alternative versions, with and without the cuts Schubert made before publication) is also shown due respect in this performance. The balance throughout the recording is dry and a little austere, but like the careful performance it allows every single detail through, an approach which has distinct advantages in music as multi-layered as this.

All round, a flawless account, celebrating a Schubert who is as much the son of Haydn and Mozart as the father of Schumann and Brahms.

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