Wiener Mozart-Trio

Franz Schubert: Piano Trio in E flat major, D 929, Unabridged Version

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This isn't quite the "first step toward a new tradition of performance" of Schubert's Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 100, as claimed in the booklet; Schubert's original, "unabridged" version has been performed before and was recorded by the Altenberg Trio in 1995. However, it's odd how rare recordings of this version have been. Yes, it's quite long, but not longer than the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944 ("The Great"), or Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, both works from the last year of Schubert's life and very much of a piece with this work. Schubert willingly made the cuts to the first and fourth movements, but it was at a publisher's request, and he may well have been already worrying about posterity and anxious to have his little-known music distributed. Most of all, the unabridged version stimulates new interpretations of the music. Schubert shortened the work by removing the exposition repeats in the first and fourth movements, as well as a striking passage in the finale where the reprise of the slow movement's main theme appears in several new combinations with the finale's subsidiary fugue-like theme. Perhaps Schubert felt that razzle-dazzle moment was out of keeping with the rest of the work. But it recasts the cyclical quality of the trio into a more narrative form that looked forward to program music from later in the century. To make all this hang together, the Wiener Mozart-Trio takes the music at a brisk clip, emphasizing the rhythmic threads that hold each movement together. You may find the second theme of the opening movement inexpressive here, given that it's one of the lyrical highlights in the conventional version. But stick with the music and its sheer harmonic scope will begin to sink in. The Scherzo is unusually good here, a little ballet of chains of rhythmic figures that answer each other only to go off in new directions; it's unusually delicate and graceful. All this helps to set up the now-giant finale as the true center of the work. By no means does the Wiener Mozart-Trio's version close the book on Schubert's E flat trio, but it certainly raises valuable questions.

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