Harmonia mundi HMG 501048, 60:42 *****:
Originally recorded in 1980 Hamburg, this beautifully played and engineered document has much to recommend it, not the least of which are the fine balances in the trio’s parts, courtesy of engineer Jean-Francois Pontefract. The separation of voices in the opening movement of Schubert’s B-flat Trio constantly keeps us attentive to the lucidity and complementary sonorities of violin and cello, with Pennetier’s piano in refined abeyance throughout. The ensemble proves so seamlessly transparent, we are wont to speak less of the performers than of the ravishing qualities of Schubert’s otherworldly writing.
The charitable melancholy of the Andante movement might reawaken our faith in human nature. The piano part embraces the laendler as well as the tender side of the Hungarian march, with Pennetier’s trills the very essence of demure lightness. Pasquier’s violin accomplishes everything Szigeti did a generation before, and Pasquier’s intonation never wavers. Despite the jarring impulses in the ternary Scherzo and Trio, the procession moves limpidly, gracefully, especially in the exalted figures from Pidoux’s cello as it blends with the violin. For the da capo, Pennetier’s piano takes a briskly bravura pride of place, a quicksilver series of runs and staccati that suggest dancing dragonflies. The nasal-toned Pasquier opens the finale, an excursion in polyrhythmic sequences that often borrows its sonorities from folk music. Chordal passages in the keyboard play against trilled figures in the strings to haunting effect. As delicate as it is virile, this movement speaks Schubert’s gentle magic at every turn, a series of quietly aerial delights for performer and listener.
The familiar A Major Sonata, D. 664 provides us with a procession of songs without words. The liner notes do not specifically identify Pennetier’s instrument as a period keyboard, but it rings with something of the Hammerfluegel’s special sonority. Judicious pedaling adds to the tender luster of the first movement, whose beauties have attracted the likes of Casadesus, Hess, Anda, and Curzon. The deliberate restriction of the dynamic level to nuances of piano and pianissimo cause us to attend ever more carefully to Schubert’s alchemical harmonies. The songful D Major Andante becomes a meditative fantasia, a curious study in major/minor that echoes late Mozart. The Rondo in 6/8 saves most of its surprises for the various modulations of its waltz-like theme that occasionally becomes a Scottish snap. Pennetier coaxes both lovely and aggressive sounds from this movement, whose rapid passages hint that Beethoven, as well as the Viennese countryside, informed Schubert’s inner ear.