Trio Vitruvi’s Schubert
Art Music Lounge
By Lynn René Bayley
SCHUBERT: Piano Trios in E-flat, D. 929 & 897 / Trio Vitruvi / Bridge 9510
The playing style for Schubert’s music has shifted considerably over the past century, from a more relaxed, Romantic and warm aesthetic to the brisk, taut, and brighter sound heard on this CD, and thus a tradeoff has been made. The more modern style brings the structure of the music into clearer focus, to be sure, but with only occasional moments of rubato (as, for instance, at the moment the music becomes quieter in the first movement of the D. 929 piano trio that leads off this CD), his music sounds much less Viennese. And, at least until the late 1970s, the Viennese style was all about relaxation in music-making.
Of course, after saying all this, I have to admit that in most of Schubert’s music I like the crisper approach. Arturo Toscanini practically gave Viennese and German audiences heart attacks with his approach to the Second and Ninth Symphonies, which were diametrically opposed to “tradition,” but I still don’t care much for his great String Quintet in C being played like cereal-shot-from-guns (as in the Heifetz-Piatagorsky concert recording). The booklet for this disc opens with the headline, “Emerging From Beethoven’s Shadow,” and to a certain extent this is true. Beethoven didn’t care much for Schubert’s music, which he found over-written and indulgent, and in fact when they were in the same wine bars at the same time the older composer made a point of completely ignoring him. This hurt Schubert’s feelings considerably since Beethoven was one of his idols. So maybe the younger composer really did want his music played at brisker tempi and less indulgent Romanticisms in phrasing. Who knows for sure? Vas you dere, Sharlie? Again…this is why “historically-informed performances” cannot claim to be historically informed at all. Recordings didn’t exist, and even as late as the early 1950s, the Germanic tradition was to conduct Beethoven symphonies like Schubert, not the other way round.
Listening to this CD, I was consistently struck by the tautness of Trio Vitruvi’s approach. The running piano figures up and down the keyboard have the crispness of the Beaux Arts Trio’s Menahem Pressler, not the discursive playing of earlier Schubert pianists, and the violin and cello playing is as lean and taut as if they were first-desk players of the NBC Symphony. Yet their style does not ignore nuance; there are several moments when they relax the tempo a shade and give the music a nice feel, particularly in the slow movements which, to my ears, sound more “Schubertian.” Still, the reader should understand that their approach is non-traditional. The “Scherzando” movement of the trio D. 929 is a perfect example. It has good forward movement but the rhythmic approach is somewhat metronomic, lacking a bit of Viennese swagger. This may seem like nit-picking, but such things must be made clear. In their favor, Trio Vitruvi does a good job with the louder and more aggressive trio section in this movement. The last movement is considerably longer than the performance by the Stuttgart Trio on Nimbus (19:19 compared to 16:08), but this appears to be due to the fact that Trio Vitruvi takes more repeats, because the Stuttgart Trio’s performance is more relaxed, a true “Allegro moderato” compared to Allegro without much moderato in this new performance.
But of course individual tastes vary and, as I say, there is considerable interest in this new approach that I’m sure will appeal to many others. We critics sometimes fall into the trap that everyone must hear music the same way we do, but this isn’t the case at all. These are clearly virtuoso performers who have their own take on this music.
The much shorter (one movement, 8:16) trio D. 897, subtitled “Notturno,” is played with great tenderness by the trio but, again, with a “cool” sound by the strings. The short review is that this is an interesting take on these old classics.