SCHUBERT Trout Quintet. Notturno. Ave Maria
I have some sympathy for DG. How do you market yet another Schubert Trout Quintet except by emphasising the stars of the show – in this instance Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniil Trifonov? But it does seem a little unfair that not only are their names much more prominent on the cover, but so are their photographs, with Mutter dressed as a couture mermaid, Trifonov beside her in a white open-necked shirt, while the other three, dressed in black, fade into the background.
Still, what matters is the playing. This Trout is clearly in a fast-flowing river, the first movement bubbling with excitement from the off, Trifonov’s triplets tripping effortlessly along. While it’s scintillating in its clarity, the big climax, where the pianist bursts into fortissimo semiquavers (2'43") sounds just too rushed. It’s telling that Brendel & co don’t reach that point until 50 seconds later, and they’re not exactly sluggish. The third-movement Scherzo is also overtly presto compared to the Brendel ensemble (who find a quiet wit here) and Paul Lewis and friends. Exciting or just a touch aggressive? It’s a taste thing.
Brendel introduces the melody of the second-movement Andante with palpable affection, with a youthful Zehetmair announcing his arrival with great subtlety, shaping the melody beautifully. The effect is quite different in the Mutter set: Trifonov & co set the scene with a quiet elegance but you’re in no doubt that Mutter is the main attraction here, bringing an almost microscopic variety of shadings and colourings to each phrase. Hyperion’s Marianne Thorsen is much more of a team player and, as the movement develops, Lewis reminds us of what a fabulous Schubertian he is.
I like the veiled way in which Mutter introduces the song theme of the fourth-movement variations but am less enamoured of the way she tends to steal the limelight elsewhere, be it in the high-lying trills in Var 1 or her over-prominent accompaniment to the viola’s melody in Var 2. Trifonov, on the other hand, plays with a combination of élan and sensitivity. But again, they go hell for leather in this movement – the minor-key Var 4 is positively cartoonish at this speed. The finale has a great sense of purpose but some of their fortes border on the aggressive; by comparison the Philips and Hyperion accounts are much more affable.
We get three generous fillers – the lustrous Notturno for piano trio, D897, and two Schubert song arrangements – ‘Ständchen’ and ‘Ave Maria’, both of which Trifonov and Mutter have tweaked without losing the Romantic ardour of the original arrangements, made by Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz respectively.
Mutter fans (and probably Trifonov fans) will of course snap this up. But Schubert fans should perhaps exercise more caution.