SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat, Op. 100; Adagio in E-flat “Notturno” –Trio Latitude 41 – Eloquentia

SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 100, D. 929; Adagio in E-flat Major for violin, cello, and piano, “Notturno,” Op. posth. 148, D. 897 – Trio Latitude 41 – Eloquentia EL 1129, 55:47 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The two late piano trios of Schubert, though written only a few weeks apart, are quite different in character. Trio No. 1 in B-flat is a more confident outgoing work with a lighthearted finale that has an almost naïve charm about it, at least by the standards of late Schubert. The Trio No. 2, on the other hand, is more serious in demeanor, with an inward brooding quality in spots that is reinforced by Schubert’s typical recourse to hairpin chiaroscuro shifts between major and minor keys, such as the jolting shift from E-flat to B minor in the first movement. The second movement, cast in C minor, has a halting, stalking gait that seems almost funereal. The theme sounds typical of Schubert’s late music, but somewhat surprisingly it’s based on the song Se solen sjunker (“See, the Sun Sets”) by Swedish composer Isak A. Berg.
Schubert’s last two movements are more impulsive and bright-hued than the first two. But then in a gesture of sheer inspiration, in the development section of the finale Schubert brings back the dark song-theme of the slow movement, which casts its long shadow over the remainder of the piece, until the very last measures of the coda, where the song-theme abruptly turns to the major, then fades into the confident first theme of the finale.
Apparently, Trio No. 2 was one of Schubert’s personal favorites among his works. After its debut at the Vienna Musikverein in December of 1827, it was played at the wedding of Schubert’s close friend Josef von Spaun and then again in March 1828, at the only public performance dedicated entirely to Schubert’s works, a concert that brought him enough cash to afford him the first piano he ever owned. When Schubert’s publisher, H. A. Probst of Leipzig, asked what dedication he wanted to appear on the printed music, the composer replied, “This work will be dedicated to none but those who take delight in it; that is the most profitable dedication of any.”
The lovely Adagio in E-flat that completes this program by Trio Latitude 41 was probably Schubert’s first go at a slow movement for his Trio No. 1. He must have rightly considered it too ethereal to match the mood of the trio and so set it aside, to be published by Anton Diabelli only in 1845. Notturno was not Schubert’s title for the work but instead appeared on the manuscript in a hand other than Schubert’s. As with the Moonlight Sonata, the title may not have been the composer’s own, but it fits well enough to have stuck to the work.
These are lovely compelling performances of Schubert’s masterworks. I’ve heard slightly more scintillant performances of the Trio No. 2 that hint at other possibilities in this music, but Trio Latitude 41’s performance is fully satisfying, rising to a truly passionate conclusion. And the playing in the Notturno is as beautiful as I’ve heard. By the way, the ensemble takes its name from the fact that its inaugural public recital took place at the 2009 Newport Music Festival in Rhode Island, which is on the same latitude, 41◦N, as Rome, where cellist Luigi Piovano makes his home.
Speaking of Piovano, I’ve admired his work in the complete music for cello and orchestra by Saint-Saëns, also on the Eloquentia label. Obviously, he has less to do in the Schubert pieces, but his warm mellifluous tone comes into its own in the slow movement of Op. 100 and in the Notturno, which Brigitte Massin notes is almost a duo for violin and cello. (For this and other bits of information I’m indebted to note-writer Mary Pardoe). This is my first acquaintance with the work of violinist Livia Sohn and pianist Bernardene Blaha, but I hope it won’t be the last.
The sound from the Banff Centre in Alberta matches the performance in terms of mellowness and roundedness. It’s natural in an undemonstrative way, and I find that entirely appealing.
—Lee Passarella

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