SCHUBERT: Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667 “Trout”; Waltzes (arr. Dejours for String
Quartet), D. 146; 17 Laendler and 12 German Dances, D. 790 – Christoph Eschenbach, piano/ Jean-Frederic Neuberger, piano (Laendler; German Dances)/ Quattor Thymos/ Yann Dubost, double bass – Avie AV2416, 54:31 95/15/20) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Recorded 8-9 May 2016, this collaboration between Christoph Eschenbach (b. 1940) and the Thymos Quartet stands as his second, substantive rendition of the 1819 Schubert Trout Quintet, his first having appeared on DGG in 1993 with the Koeckert Quartet. At age 76. Eschenbach reveals no sign of having lost sheer motor power, digital dexterity, and the infectious brio of ensemble. Eschenbach and friends create for us an hour’s Schubertiad, similar in spirit to that marvelous disc from Deutsche Harmonia Mundi that presented Jorg Demus, Elly Amerling and clarinet Hans Deinzer in lovely lieder, laendler and an incandescent The Shepherd on the Rock.
Schubert had vacationed in northern Austria in the summer of 1819, traveling with baritone Johann Vogl. During a restful stopover in the village Steyr, Schubert and Vogl called upon Sylvester Paumgartner, an amateur cellist who fancied himself a patron of the arts, who asked of Schubert to write a quintet suitable for his music gatherings with fellow enthusiasts. Paugartneer had two works in mind as models: first, Schubert’s own lied in D-flat Major, Die Forelle, composed in 1817 and which would provide the basis of a series of variations; second, Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s D minor Quintet, scored for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. The spontaneity with which Schubert answered the commission cannot completely explain the utter mastery of the work’s almost “orchestral” sonority and the sheer abundance of melodic tissue. This Piano Quintet in A Major has endured as a glowing testament to the intimate joy of chamber music executed at high pitch.
The opening Allegro vivace has an upward piano flourish, and the strings respond with warm optimism, manipulating as many as five themes, any of which could carry the movement. The second theme rises a fifth above in E Major, the cello (Delphine Biron) in full voice, coupled with the violin (Gabriel Richard). So, too, the double bass adds a tonal luster all its own, setting a deep fullness to the keyboard’s often aerial gymnastics in the high treble. Schubert maintains the work in sonata form, but we never feel the architecture as such, since the melodic fluency and transparency of parts so thoroughly engage us.
The ensuing Andante in F Major extends the lyric impulse, placid and rife with harmonic subtlety, the instrumentation allows the viola (Nicolas Carles) to converse with the cello in one of Mozart’s chosen, expressive keys, F-sharp Minor – the key of the glorious slow movement in Concerto No. 23 in A Major. The bass contributes its own pulse, violin Richard in dotted figures, and Eschenbach graces the occasion in triplets. A gentle march in D follows, and it will appear before the end of the movement – by harmonically circuitous routes – in A-flat. Once more, the marvelous viola-cello duet lulls us, in A minor, just before the da capo. The Scherzo: Presto supplies a rustic, comic relief, rife with good, energetic humor for the double bass.
The opportunity to exploit the lied Die Forelle to six virtuosic variations proves a master exercise for Schubert, who exploits the double bass to free the cello sonority and allow the piano a dramatic contrast in high tessitura and quick, intense articulation, as in Variation 3 and Eschenbach’s thirty-second notes. The Variation One has the double bass ground the harmony while Eschenbach executes rounded octaves. Meanwhile, the cello sings high, and the violin ornaments the melody along with the cello. Viola and violin share the luxuries of Variation 2. In Variation 3, besides dropping our jaws at Eschenbach’s liquid, pearly finesse, we enjoy a duet between cello and double bass. Suddenly, the mirth disappears in Variation 4, a descent into D minor, fortissimo, a moment of sturm und drang that subsides as quickly as it came, resolved into sunny F Major, the cello’s celebrating the quelling of the mortal storm. The final variation dispels the permutations for the original sonority, the piano much reminding us of its role in the lied proper. A single, tolling note in the piano, viola, and cello announces the Allegro giusto finale. Here, the emphasis concerns unyielding, lyrical momentum, a strategy we know from the last movement of the late “Great” C Major Symphony. The cumulative effect has already had my coming back to audition the whole disc a second time.
Composer Oliver Dejours takes his cue from Anton Webern and “orchestrates” seven, selected Waltzes by Schubert to create a Viennese salon effect: we could be listening to an ensemble led by Lanner or the Strauss brothers. Typically, the harmonic modulations belie the “simplicity” urged by the melodies. Pianist Jean-Frederic Neuberger plays a six-and-one-half minutes’ worth of Schubert Laendler, those precious miniatures whose melody and lilt never cease to astonish, a limitless fund of pianistic song. The seven dances derive from two distinct sets, D. 366 and D. 790, but the continuity and sentimental flow of the music remains seamless.