I recently paid $50 for a 180g vinyl reissue of Schubert's effervescent Trout Quintet. The joys of vinyl are all there in the great performance by Sir Clifford Curzon and members of the Vienna Octet on Decca. It's the only work on the album. That's where the CD shines—up to 80 minutes. Well, that, and capturing much needed new performances of old masterpieces. On this new DGG album, we get the best of CD logistics, plus the crackerjack promise by stars of the DGG house Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin and Daniil Trifonov, piano.
The Trout Quintet is the given name to Schubert's Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667, composed in 1819, but published only after his death in 1829. What a musical crime—only friends, family and admirers were to experience this chamber masterpiece during the composer's lifetime.
It's a bit of an odd duck instrumentally—the orchestration of the classic piano quintet, piano, two violins, viola and cello, is changed to add a little depth to the trout's waters—a double bass subs in for the second violin. More melodies for the fiddle 'star'.
Instead of a standard chamber group, DGG higher ups enticed two of the major instrumental stars of their catalogue to record it. And there's no doubt that the two stars are front and center, musically and technically. In fact, Mutter gets to really strut her stuff on two additional solo items and the Notturno For Piano, Violin And Violoncello In E Flat Major, Op. 148, D 897, where she shares the stage with cellist Maximilian Hornung. If you're a fan of Mutter, her flawless technique, with musicianship to behold, then you'll love the added Schubert lollipops. Back to the Trout.
Have good look at that cover. Mutter and Trifonov, front and center, are ready for their close up, Mr. DeMille. Seriously? The three other very fine musicians look awkwardly out of place. As I said, if you're a fan of Mutter, and they are legion (me, included), you'll love this CD. And if you are a fan of Trifonov (Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein laureate), it's pure double pleasure. Their playing is sublime on this recording. You hear them clearly, hogging the front of stage, every gorgeous phrase played as if covered with gold and pearls. Really, that beautiful. And you'll hear it from the very opening interplay of the first movement. The triplets (in a very fast, alla breve tempo) can sound a little prosaic under weaker fingers. Here, the trout is happy in his pond.
When I write music reviews for Audiophilia, I usually put my flutist/conductor hat on. The audiophile in me (the avocation, not the vocation) is a few steps behind. But, the more this audiophile listened, the more disappointed I became (follow the score on IMSLP for best effect). It truly reflects the cover's bias. Of course Schubert wanted the violin and piano to shine, but there is so much gorgeous counterpoint and accompaniment in the viola, cello and double bass, that to dilute them is to miss Schubert's point. DGG engineers/producers made the choice. There it is. Sad, as the three Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation artists, Maximilian Hornung (cello), Roman Patkoló (double bass) and Hwayoon Lee (viola), sound like they are able and ready to make the most serious contribution.
Just in case it was the fault of of my main level lifestyle SONOS reference system, I checked the recording out on Tidal HiFi/Roon on my listening room reference system (Raidho Acoustics, Jeff Rowland, Antipodes Audio—all the good stuff). Nope, the same. A little clearer when the viola and cello are scrubbing eighths and the double bass a little cleaner (though the SONOS SUB is superb in grabbing what true bass there is in a recording), but the unmusical balance is still there.
So, for Trout aficionados, I think you'll be disappointed. Schubert and the three youngsters get shortchanged. But for Mutter and Trifonov completists, it'll work.
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 "The Trout"
Notturno For Piano, Violin And Violoncello In E Flat Major, Op. 148, D 897
Schwanengesang, D. 957
Ständchen In D Minor (Arr. For Violin And Piano)
Ellens Gesang III, Op. 52, No.6, D 839
Int. Release 03 Nov. 2017
DGG 0289 479 7570 0