'Trout' gets the treatment it deserves Sincerity: Gracious, warm playing outclasses slick performance by all-star ensemble.

Classical Sounds

April 14, 1996|By STEPHEN WIGLER | STEPHEN WIGLER,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Schubert "Trout Quintet," performed by pianist Emmanuel Ax, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Pamela Frank, violist Rebecca Young, bassist Edgar Meyer; Schubert "Arpeggione Sonata," performed by Ma and Ax; "The Trout," performed by soprano Barbara Bonney and Ax (Sony Classical 61964). Schubert "Trout Quintet," performed by pianist Alfred Brendel, violinist Thomas Zehetmair, violist Tabbea Zimmermann, cellist Richard Duven, bassist Peter Riegelbaur; Mozart, Quartet in G minor, performed by Brendel, Zehetmair, Zimmermann, Duven (Philips 446001):

Choice between these performances of Schubert's "Trout Quintet" will depend upon two factors: couplings and interpretive style. Does one want, for example, a recording with a performance of the Schubert song that gives the quintet its nickname and a performance of the "Arpeggione Sonata" by the world's most famous cellist? Or does one prefer to have a performance of Mozart's profound G minor Piano Quartet (a work whose worth can be measured in bushels of "Trout Quintets")? The verdict here for the Philips version, however, is based upon its more gracious and cultivated approach to the music.

The all-star ensemble on Sony emphasizes ultra-kinetic virtuosity, lean-but-sensuous sonority, high-tension, streamlined phrasing and subtle interpretive gestures. The playing is terrific, but it all sounds a little too slick for Schubert. If one really loves this composer, then one rarely cares about smooth gear shifts in his music. A Z-28 seems out of place on the streets of Vienna, and so do these high-powered performers in the "Trout."

In the "Arpeggione," Ma and his longtime partner, Ax, make the music sound impossibly affected and cute. This sonata was designed by its young composer as light entertainment; one can be reasonably sure he did not intend it to be designated "lite."

The rectitude and sincerity missing from the Sony disc are tangibly present on the Philips. The "Trout's" humor and pathos come across with greater gentleness and feeling. And the music does not hurtle by in the bullet-train manner that mars the performance on the Sony disc. The ambience of the Brendel-led performance is warm rather than hot, and the contours of the music are flattered by what appears to be closer to natural lighting than by the American ensemble's harsher indoor variety.

The performance of Mozart's G minor Quartet is as lovely as that on the classic account by Clifford Curzon and members of the Amadeus Quartet. And the music is made even more powerful by the decision of Brendel and his colleagues to observe the first movement repeat, which gives this piece even greater tragic weight.

Hear the music

To hear an excerpt from two recordings of Schubert's "Trout Quintet," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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