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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Works for Piano Trio
Trio for piano, violin and cello No. 1 in B flat major op. 99 D 898 [44:25]
Sonata movement in B flat major D 28 [11:42]
Trio for piano, violin and cello No. 2 in E flat major op. 100 D 929 [56:44]
Notturno in E flat major op. 148 D 897 [8:59]
Trio Rafale
rec. 2017, Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile, Italy.
COVIELLO CLASSICS COV91808 [55:11+65:46]

The Trio Rafale are three former students from Zurich who first played together in 2008, and in the following years gave successful concerts in Switzerland, Germany, and beyond. They gained some prestigious competition prizes and made their Wigmore Hall London debut in 2014. Their three previous recordings feature unusual couplings or repertoire: one is of Schumann and Ravel, one of Vasks and Brahms, and one of early works of Debussy, Rachmaninov, Shostakovitch and Henze, plus a piece written for the trio by Swiss composer Jannik Giger. That third disc was awarded the 'Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik' in 2017. The repertoire here however is absolutely central – all the piano trio music of Schubert.

The B flat Trio sets off very steadily, at a tempo that could still just about be called an allegro moderato. There is also enough rhythmic lift to the various dotted motifs to maintain some impetus, and a slight ritardando to ease into the flowing second subject. The later Schubert rarely seems in a great hurry so why not take some time to enjoy the beauties along the way? In the 6/8 Andante un poco mosso that “poco mosso” (‘a little animated’) is not quite reflected in another leisurely tempo. The cello’s restraint in the use of vibrato here is appealing and the phrasing of the great melody unaffected – and so affecting. The scherzo is delightful throughout, and at just the right tempo for its easy-going manners. The rondo finale (perhaps not the strongest movement of the four) outstays its welcome a little in this performance. Overall a very pleasing and idiomatic account, lacking a little in pace and sparkle at times, but with many compensating subtleties.

The E flat Trio gets a similar interpretation, serious, committed and expertly played, with many a passing detail lovingly indulged. In both trios the dynamic markings are scrupulously observed. These musicians are believers in Schumann’s observation about Schubert’s “heavenly length” and both the outer movements here are taken at a broad tempo, though never one which sounds perversely slow. There is nothing equivalent to one’s first hearing of Sviatoslav Richter opening Schubert’s B flat piano sonata D960, which is usually “What? Is he serious?” Of course, for some of us it then became a compelling alternative to ‘normal’ versions. But Trio Rafale favour tempi, and their repeat selections, which seem designed to ensure that we pay attention to every bar, sometimes twice. It perhaps needs some comparative data to put this feeling into context.

There are many excellent recordings that offer the same four works as the Trio Rafale’s pair of discs. From 1985 there is the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips, followed by the Trio Fontenay (Teldec 1996) and Trio Wanderer (Harmonia Mundi 2008). Also to be considered is the combination of András Schiff (piano), Yuuko Shiokawa (violin) and Miklós Perényi (cello), (Teldec 1997). They omit the (fairly inconsequential) Trio Sonata movement D28 but add the much more desirable and substantial Arpeggione Sonata D821. In the following table you can see the timings of each of these groups for each movement of the two main works. They take the most time in every movement of the B flat, and the two outer movements of the E flat. The biggest first movement differences between Trio Rafale the others are explained by their repeat of the exposition in both works, but even those groups that take the same repeat need over two minutes less time. The finale of the E flat looks the most extreme, again because of a long repeat (one that does not feel structurally essential), and their basic tempo is again rather steady but does not feel that slow. But, of course, in a movement of almost 750 bars, small differences gradually add up. So even more than with the B flat Piano Trio, the finale of the E flat might outstay its welcome – especially if you are irretrievably indoctrinated by the much-praised Trio Wanderer in this music, who are a full nine minutes shorter, without the movement seeming truncated or it ever feeling as if they are dashing through it.

Trio Rafale 16:29 10:02 7:10 9:44
Trio Wanderer 15:02 9:47 6:36 8:57
Schiff et. al. 15:07 9:57 6:40 9:04
Fontenay Trio 11:33 9:24 7:01 9:20
Beaux Arts Trio 11.41 8.49 6:45 9:13
Trio Rafale 17:22 9:20 7:10 22:54
Trio Wanderer 12:14 9:42 6:44 13:20
Schiff et. al. 16:01 9:26 7:21 19:27
Fontenay 13:20 10:13 8:03 15:37
Beaux Arts 12:41 9:42 6:44 14:20

The smaller pieces are both beautifully done, (and in the lovely Notturno they are slightly faster than some others, but everyone is around 9-10 minutes). So, while I can’t definitively recommend this newcomer above the established favourites listed above, it is a most welcome addition, not least because they have their own thought-through way with the music, and, especially in its haunting spaciousness in a few movements, it is complementary to them.

The sound is very good, and there are useful notes, including one attributed to the Trio itself. In that note they enumerate the huge numbers of recordings that have been made of these works, and add “One of our greatest aims would be fulfilled if this recording (of a moment in time) should succeed in augmenting what is already known though an enlightening perspective, achieving a more profound comprehension of these trios”. We actually do have an “enlightening perspective” in these performances, but they are for those who wish to spend plenty of time savouring the two great Trios.

Roy Westbrook

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