Schubert Ensemble of London

Schubert: 'Trout' Quintet; Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat

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The Schubert Ensemble of London must face tough scrutiny when it presents works by its revered namesake, and the pressure to perform to the highest standards must be intense. This might seem silly -- after all, what first-class group doesn't feel the heat when playing Schubert? -- but greater expectations and personal pride seem to impel the Ensemble to do extraordinary things, as it demonstrates on this splendid album. Schubert's "Trout" Quintet in A major is extremely familiar and often susceptible to jaded, lazy readings, since its infectious melodies can carry the work along even when the playing is second-rate. Not so with the Ensemble's alert performance because its parts are distinctly characterized, its technical execution is consistently brilliant, and its emotional expression is always fresh and engaging. The Ensemble is compelling in every movement, but the playing is outstanding in the Andantino theme and variations, perhaps the most enchanting track on this disc. The Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat may be less familiar than the previous work, but the Ensemble devotes the same meticulous care and emotional involvement to it, and the results are almost as pleasing. The only problem worth mentioning is the sound of the piano, which seems remote and echoic, undoubtedly due to the microphone's placement.

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