Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Schubert Piano Trios

Franz Schubert:

Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, D898
Fantasie for Violin and Piano in C major, D934
Impromptu for Piano in A flat major, D935/2

Boris Kucharsky, violin
Peter Wöpke, cello
Elizabeth Hopkins, piano
(CD – Paladino Music PMR 0046)

Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, D929
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor (viola version), D821 (*)
Boris Kucharsky, violin and viola (in (*))
Thomas Carroll, cello
Elizabeth Hopkins, piano
(CD – Paladino Music PMR 0047)

These two discs from Paladino Music offer a charming perspective on Schubert’s late chamber music, featuring both string trios and an interesting selection of complementary works clearly designed to play to the strengths of the individual musicians. With the second disc, violinist Boris Kucharsky, a former protégé of Yehudi Menuhin, and pianist Elizabeth Hopkins complete their cycle of Schubert’s music for piano and violin. For the first piano trio they are joined by Peter Wöpke, principal cellist with the Bavarian State Orchestra. The British cellist Thomas Carroll, who is also chief conductor for the Orpheus Sinfonia, does the honors for the second piano trio.

All of the music on these two discs is from the sunnier end of Schubert’s chamber repertoire, even though it overlaps with some of his darkest compositions – the lively Rondo in the first piano trio was written at the same time as Winterreise, for example. Discs of late Schubert chamber music can easily leave the listener rather drained. These two discs have the opposite effect. They remind us of Schubert’s extraordinary ability, even in the advanced stages of syphilis, of writing graceful and exuberant music. 

The second piano trio is a more substantial work than the first, with an intense slow movement and a lengthy and magisterial finale. It was the main item on the program in the only public concert of his music that Schubert attended in his lifetime. It was a great success, unlike the Fantasie in C major for violin and piano, which fell on stony ground when premiered in January 1828. The Arpeggione Sonata has been scored for many instruments, but is best known in versions for viola and piano and cello and piano. Here it is played by Boris Kucharksy on the viola. The rich timbre of the instrument does justice to the expressive andante. Elizabeth Hopkins gives a fine performance of the well-known Impromptu in A flat major.

The playing on these two discs is of high quality and the sound is first rate. But this is a case, I think, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The two discs are recommended for the light they shed on some of the lesser known corners of Schubert’s late chamber music.