Piano Trios: No. 2 in E♭; No. 1 in B♭.
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
(arr. Chris Hazell and Yi-Chen Lin).
(arr. Yi-Chen Lin)
Oliver Schnyder Tr
RCA 88765443442 (2 CDs: 109:04)
Talk about newly formed chamber music groups. The Oliver Schnyder Trio made its debut at the Zurich Tonhalle as recently as February 2012, performing Schubert’s E♭-Major Piano Trio. The ensemble is named for its pianist, Oliver Schnyder, who studied with Emmy Henz-Diémand and Homero Francesch in Switzerland and with Leon Fleisher in the U.S. Separate from the Trio, Schnyder has appeared with leading orchestras, such as the Philharmonia, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, and the WDR Cologne under conductors such as Philippe Jordan, David Zinman, Semyon Bychkov, and Mario Venzago. The Oliver Schnyder’s violinist, Andreas Janke, is concertmaster of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, and cellist Benjamin Nyffenegger is the orchestra’s associate principal cellist.
This brand new two-disc set comes not long after my interview in 36:4 with Alexander Hülshoff, cellist of the Trio Bamberg, and review of that ensemble’s recording of Schubert’s two great piano trios. Of late, in fact, the trios—especially the E♭-Major one—have fared exceptionally well on disc, not that there is a shortage of versions to be had of either of them.
The Trio Bamberg’s effort managed to fit both trios onto a single disc, but at the expense of the first-movement exposition repeats, an omission some might consider a plus, considering the length of these works and the repetitive nature of much of the passagework. Having the luxury of two discs for its performances, the Oliver Schnyder Trio takes the exposition repeats and has room left over on the second disc containing the B♭-Major Piano Trio for arrangements of two of Schubert’s well-known songs.
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
(The Shepherd on the Rock) works especially well in this arrangement, since it was a trio to begin with, originally scored for soprano, clarinet, and piano.
When it comes to the E♭-Major Trio, which occupies the whole of disc 1, I’m afraid I have a bone to pick with the Oliver Schnyder ensemble. In addition to the first movement repeat, the players opt to perform Schubert’s original, uncut version of the last movement, which not only includes the lengthy exposition repeat but a good deal of additional material in the development section, thereby disregarding the composer’s own cuts and letter to his publisher, stating that “the closest attention should be paid to the abbreviated musical signs [i.e., cuts] in the last piece [i.e., the last movement].” It is one thing to make cuts where none is indicated, but quite another to restore cuts the composer has unambiguously made himself and explicitly requested to be observed. The result of this “we know better than the composer” is a movement stretched to the breaking point, taking over 19 minutes in this performance.
On a positive note, I will commend the Oliver Schnyder Trio for filling out its B♭-Major Trio disc with something other than the practically ubiquitous E♭-Major
that so many other ensembles choose as program filler.
As to the playing, reciting the same litany over and over again regarding the perfection of execution by the latest chamber group to arrive on the scene is becoming tiresome. Yes, spot-on intonation, attention to dynamics and phrasing, internal balance of voices, and ideal tempos are all in evidence in the Oliver Schnyder Trio’s performances. I wouldn’t expect any less. But in works this exhaustively explored on record by so many ensembles—current listings show over 80 versions for each of the two trios—one has to ask if the Oliver Schnyder’s players bring anything to their readings of these scores that warrant recommending them over any number of other noteworthy versions. I wouldn’t presume to single out a “best” or “definitive” among them, terms which are probably meaningless anyway in works of this significance. But I can tell you that for now, I’m still finding the performances by the Trio Dali, reviewed in 35: 2, to be the ones that give me the most satisfaction.