I have been a big fan of chamber music for years; Beethoven, Shostakovich, Bartok, Part, and on and on. I love the intimacy, I respect the craft, and I dig the emotional connection that a handful of acoustic musicians can create in a small space. But, I have my preferences and they lean towards the outskirts of what one might label the “light and proper and exacting” stuff. And the Trout, which has always seemed a bit superficial to me — it’s all brisk, it’s all major – falls into that camp.
I much prefer Shubert’s later chamber-music compositions with their somber undertones, but I would be a “fool to ignore the Trout forever”, or so I have been told (the same logic goes with early Mozart and I’m slowly realizing I have a lot to learn about my stubbornness regarding certain elements of the Classical period). So I decided to check out the new Speakers Corner pressing of “The Trout”, taken from the Columbia Records’ series: “Music From Marlboro” (Columbia MS-7067), just to see if I could get down with some early Schubert.
Instead of the basic piano plus string quartet (two violins, viola, cello), The Trout is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. Composed by a budding Shubert, 22 at the time, the Trout takes its inspiration from melodic themes taken from Lieder he composed years earlier for “Die Forelle” (the Trout).
There is certainly consistency and coherence throughout the work, yet I find little to hold onto as the music passes by. Cascading piano melodies sparkle over the rapidly changing harmonies provided by the strings. And it is Serkin’s crisp and apt playing – further revealed by the highly detailed sound this pressing lends to the piano –that takes this performance to the next level. The piano is well recorded and properly placed amongst the strings. The overall sound is as pleasant and natural as this type of chamber music desires. It’s a clean sounding pressing with little to no surface noise.
Some may prefer the Harkin Quartet and James Levine or maybe Emanuel Ax and the Guarneri, but the performance by Serkin and friends at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont is satisfying enough to tickle anyone’s fancy. And I have found that you can even amass an extensive collection of the Trout if you so desire (a Google search located over 45 different versions, not to mention that Speakers Corner has already released another version of the Trout, the Decca recording), but if you want a solid pressing of this über-popular chamber piece, then this Speakers Corner reissue, with a lively natural sound that presents the instruments with ease, is all you would ever need . One listen to these players blaze through and you will hear why Time magazine described the playing at the Marlboro Festival as, at the time, “the most exciting chamber music in the United States”.