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Still the Benchmark Performance of the Schubert Piano Trios
on August 31, 2011
Schubert's Piano Trios lay claim to being the greatest in the genre. And these are the best performances by a mile. There is a meridian feel to them as if the three participants were still at the top of their game and they wanted to broadcast their expertise everlastingly to the world.
I also owned the earlier performances with the Beaux Arts Trio (Mark I) from the 1960s. Upon hearing these later versions, I promptly sold them off: Cohen has a fuller tone than his predecessor; the music-making is just as acute and the recordings from the Sixties are fuzzy compared with the newcomer. Indeed, the original June 1984 recording was already a model of its kind. The remastering, whilst welcome, has added little. It has presence. Unless you are fussy, the three instruments are masterfully balanced.
In their hands, the B Flat in particular is a masterpiece. Magisterially, the BAT (Mark II) convey an intimacy in the last movement that is deeply moving: akin to Horace and Klimt, Schubert parries Oblivion as he celebrates humanity in all of its transient glory.
Best of all is the performance of the Notturno. To my mind, it is Schubert's Tristan und Isolde. It commences with the strumming of the sea; two passionate encounters follow only for the sea to reassert itself, thereby erasing all trace of the union. What a gun work. This performance is so much more electrifying than the alternative from the Sixties. Pressler is stunning.
I do not understand the cult of the earlier performances. All in all, this is the one to get.