Quartettsatz in C minor, D703 [plus second movement completed by Brian Newbould]
String Trio in B flat, D581
Piano Trio No.2 in E flat, D929

Swedish Folksong: Se solen sjunker

Joshua Bell & Arisa Fujita (violins), Béatrice Muthelet (viola), Steven Isserlis (cello) & Jeremy Denk (piano) with Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano)

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 11 May, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

According to Steven Isserlis: “all great composers wrote music that could be described as ‘heavenly’; but others have to take you there. In Schubert’s music you hear the very first notes, and you know that you’re there already.”

That Isserlis is a fan of Schubert could not be doubted at any moment during this concert, and on the few occasions that the cello took over the lead it became evident just how much he savoured the tunefulness of his part, playing it as much for himself as for the audience. Isserlis’s choice of fellow musicians (who were all excellent) and repertoire betrayed the same reverence, as well as a genuine interest in presenting the development and scope of Schubert’s musical language.

The first half presented two pieces showing the composer at an early stage of his mature writing. The Quartettsatz in C minor, a first movement of an unfinished string quartet, was combined with a completed version of the second movement by Brian Newbould (Schubert wrote only the first 37 bars), who utilised an abridged sonata-form with a three-key exposition and a short development. Newbould’s task has been executed with mastery, but the really sublime part of the piece, and one that fully justified the enterprise, was the pastoral idyll of the opening bars. After the cheerful, occasionally agitated first movement, this was pure Schubert heaven, although only about a minute long.

The String Trio of 1817 was composed during Schubert’s 20th-year and shows the composer’s excellent sense of proportion and style while hinting at the darker qualities of his later work. Among the performers, violinist Arisa Fujita shone out, her spontaneity and expressiveness perfectly apposite to the classical qualities of the work.

The second half opened with a performance of the Swedish folksong that Schubert used as material for his Piano Trio in E flat. Anna Grevelius presented the piece with warmth and appropriate folksiness.

The recital’s climax was the Piano Trio itself, a truly overwhelming work which finds Schubert at his most melancholy. The quality of the melodies and the psychological and dynamic complexity of the work must have proved an unforgettable listening experience for contemporaries.

It received an appropriately overwhelming performance. Besides Joshua Bell’s and Steven Isserlis’s well-known qualities, pianist Jeremy Denk’s light, swift touch and easeful virtuosity reminded of Brendel. Despite a slightly shrill fortissimo in the second movement, his was an admirable contribution. A solo recital would be most welcome.

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