INKPOT#75 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: SCHUBERT Trout Quintet. Arpeggione Sonata. Notturno. L’Archibudelli (Sony Vivarte)

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Piano Quintet in A Major, D.667 “The Trout” (Op. posth. 114)
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor D.821 “Arpeggione”
Adagio for Piano Trio in E-flat Major D.897 “Notturno” (Op. posth. 148)

Verya Beths violin Jurgen Kussmaul viola Anner Bylsma cello
Marji Danilow double bass with Jos van Immerseel fortepiano

SONY Vivarte SK63361
[69’69”] full-price

by Derek Lim

I’ve listened to this CD about 6 times now, and enjoy it more each time. (You can, in fact, listen to excerpts of it here). It has an impressive programme, and with it, very impressive playing to boot.

Franz Schubert I’ve never been a period-instrument (or HIP: “Historically-Informed Practice/Performance”) fan, but even the most hardened skeptics could be won over by these performances. The chamber group L’Archibudelli (meaning “bows and strings” in Italian) give a performance of the “Trout Quintet” which positively breathes with life. I’ve often found the numerous repeats in the first movement of the Quintet prolix and adding no real musical content; here the twelve minutes pass like a twinkle of the eye. The musical argument flows unerringly, one gets a performance that is fast on its feet without ever feeling rushed. Although it is a HIP performance, one can expect this Romantic music being played with some vibrato, but not the Kreisleresque vibrato on every note. I guess one could ask for more impetuosity here; if conductors were compared with these performances, one might compare this with a Horenstein rather than a Beecham, but the overall structure of the work is preserved perfectly, though perhaps in another analogy, one is reminded of gentle rolling hills rather than more majestic landscape. Then again, this gentle music certainly works well with that approach. The group nevertheless handles the mounting tension three minutes from the end well.

The more troubled second movement, Andante, is reminiscent of Mozart at his darker moments, and at a relatively fast tempo, the quintet manage to bring across this, with the typical Schubertian grace of phrase.

The third movement, a Scherzo, starts like a Mozart divertimento, and indeed serves in the piece as a little distraction, but quickly Schubert’s more complicated turns of phrase and development establishes itself. The trio is taken at more or less the same tempo as the Scherzo, and they play with verve and much vivacity here.

The fourth movement is the movement which gives the Quintet its nickname, and it is taken throughout at a rather fastish pace. The main theme which is the backbone of the movement is played beautifully and elegantly, as are the first three variations. The Beethovenesque fourth variation, half in minor, with its mock-Sturm-und-Drang is played with much attack and impetuosity, and the last variation, which goes even more in the minor is explored very freshly. The return of the Thema, Allegretto shows that everything is unchanged. The movement is played beautifully and it passes just as quickly, with a twinkle in Schubert’s eye as it ends.

The last movement starts with a properly rollicking piece of playing, and as it continues, the natural communication the players have with each other comes across very well indeed. Although I thought that several opportunities for greater humour were skipped over, this is no great fault, since it tends to emphasise the darker side of the music which all the same is clear as spring water and positively delicious. There is a slightly desperate quality to the music, which I’m sure Schubertians will point out. After listening to this recording, there is a curious sense of loss, in the sense that it has to be over so quickly, surely a good reason to recommend this recording, even for non-HIP fans.

Some summaries of the Quintet: Throughout the performance, I am reminded that Immerseel is no mean chamber music player – he has his own fair share of personality but never really dominates the piece, except in the last movement, though I’m sure Schubert himself would have approved. The violist, cellist and bassist are all reliable players. The violinist unfortunately has a habit of sometimes not landing exactly on the note, or scooping up to it. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often, and her sense of poetry more than makes up for this little shortcoming.

For the Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor D.821 “Arpeggione”, Anner Bylsma delivers a reading of much personality on a Violoncello Piccolo, with 5 strings. His frequent flights of fantasy in the first movement are a great delight to listen to – one might even say it sounds Brahmsian!

One special thing about using this instrument and gut string is that the pizzicato chords sound really guitar-like, the way an arpeggione would sound. It is quite different from the cello at that time and definitely different from the present-day cello. This is the kind of sound Schubert may have had in mind when he composed for the new (and very short-lived) arpeggione.

His reading is very poetic, but I think he misses out just a little on the humour here, for example the cautious theme approaching the coda, which I always thought sounds like a graceful woman. I thought this part could have been played more defined, and deliberate, like a sultry beauty descending the stairs of an opera house.

Bylsma’s reading of the second movement is taken again at a faster pace than usual, and vibrato is used sparingly again, which tends to rob the music of a little character, not to mention colour. Sometimes this is frustrating. In the third movement he opens up a little more, and allows just a touch of vibrato which gives so much life to the performance, which rolls forward with much life and spontaneity, making it truly enjoyable. What I pity I couldn’t enjoy the second movement more; I’m sure out there someone will like the totally vibrato-less approach; for the time being I shall stick to some other recording when listening to the second movement. I’d dare anyone to find much fault with the sparkling playing in the first and third movements, though.

The last track on the CD is the Adagio for Piano Trio in E-flat Major D.897 “Notturno”. This is an involving reading, which the trio of Immerseel, Beths and Bylsma present beautifully and without exaggeration. The attractive sound of period strings here adds to the enjoyment of this work, which starts of with a serenade, but has its own fair share of troubles, and Schubert’s unique mark. I can understand why they thought of the name Notturno (Night) but it seems to me no ordinary nightfall – with its Italian overtones I can picture myself actually enjoying my rarified evening air while riding in a gondola through the city of Venice! This is a deeply satisfying reading of the Trio.

Need I add that all these performances are captured in really good sound; with each entity balanced well. Sony’s engineers should be congratulated. I will put on this disc again and again; I have already, seven times now, as finish writing.

In Singapore, this CD is available at or can be ordered from Sing Discs (Raffles City), Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), HMV (The Heeren) and Borders (Wheelock Place).

Derek Lim likes his Trout with an extra bit of lemon, preferrably fresh

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462: 22.4.1999 Derek Lim

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