Releasing a recording of these masterworks is courageous. Even the early movement (D28) has well in excess of thirty recordings, the two full-scale trios more than seventy. Anyone who loves trios and/or Schubert will have at least one favourite recording, and a new release will have to be quite outstanding to make an impact. Gramola did achieve this for me with TrioVanBeethoven’s Beethoven cycle, but more often than not, the result is a perfectly adequate performance that fails to displace existing preferences, and falls into the category of “do I really need to buy this? No”. That is more or less the case here, though I have sufficient reservations which put this one a little below “perfectly adequate” status.
My two favourites are the Florestan Trio (Hyperion) and the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips). They exemplify for me the essential singing quality in Schubert, whilst retaining a forward momentum that is equally important. This puts them well ahead of the players here who I find a little rough-edged and heavy-footed, as well as adopting overly broad tempos.
The two Andantes are, for me, taken too slowly: they are more than a minute and half slower in each – 11:26 and 10:38, respectively – than my favourites. This takes them closer to adagio tempo, which Schubert, of course, famously rarely employed. The final movement in the E flat Trio stands out before even listening to it, with a duration of twenty-plus minutes. This exceeds that of the Florestans and Beaux Arts by almost eight minutes. At first, I thought this must be explained by the performers opting for repeats, though I could see none indicated in the score I have. However, a quick survey of performances in the Naxos Music Library found two others where the final movement is of this length (or even longer – Trio Jean Paul). The Kungsbacka Trio (Naxos), at just under twenty minutes, specify that they use the original version. Even this doesn’t fully explain matters, as the Florestan Trio also provide the original version at just under fifteen minutes.
I have reviewed this trio in works by Karl Goldmark, and commented on a few minor issues with the violinist’s tonal quality. I have more reservations here: I find his tone quite piercing at times, and it does detract from the listening experience. The same recording venue is used as in the Goldmark, and my comment then remains the same: very warm with the violin placed too far forward so that it dominates – at times, the piano and cello seem to be in another room – which given my reservations about its sound, makes matters worse.
If you feel the need to purchase all recordings of Schubert’s trios, or you like these performers a lot more than me, then you will obviously put this on your list. Otherwise, I can’t see this as a necessary acquisition.