Franz Schubert: “Trout” Quintet (Clifford Curzon, Willi Boskovsky & Vienna Octet members). String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden” (Willi Boskovsky & Vienna Philharmonic Quartet). Decca / London 417 459-2 (1988), barcode 028941745927
Recorded October 1957 (Quintet), 8-9 April 1963 (Quartet) at the Sofiensaal, Vienna
Note: that dating comes from Philip Stuart’s authoritative discography of the Decca label. The first CD edition indications November 1957 and May 1963
Quartet: Willi Boskovsky, Otto Strasser, Rudolf Streng, Robert Scheiwein
CD editions with same pairing:
Decca 460 650-2 “Penguin Classics” (1999), barcode 028946065020:
Decca 460 485-2 “Ambient Surround Imaging” (German edition), (1999? or 2009?) barcode 028946048528:
Decca 467 417-2 “Ambient Surround Imaging”, barcode 028946741726:
Decca Japan UCCD 9050 (2001?) barcode 4988005274205 (same front cover as above)
A “Trout” without much spice and a “Maiden’s” Quartet, but where is “Death”?
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 17 August 2006; discography added upon re-post, 17 December 2017
Besides the composer, and the fact that the variation movement in both works derives from a Lied previously written by Schubert, “Die Forelle” and “Der Tod und das Mädchen”, these two recordings share first fiddler Willy Boskovsky, the reputed concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic back then, and have enjoyed near-universal critics’ approval ever since they were published – in 1957 for the “Trout” quintet and 1963 for the quartet, then coupled with Schubert’s 10th Quartet, so it was sensible of Decca to put them together – yet allow me to express the dissenting view here.
First, the sound, at least on Decca’s first CD reissue from 1988, doesn’t have much presence, especially when compared to the transfers Boston Skyline did for the Fine Arts quartet in the same coupling, or to the famous Rudolf Serkin and Marlboro’s 1967 recording for Columbia, now Sony.
To be sure, there are great things in the Quintet. The 4th movement – the famous “Trout” variations – is one of them, thanks to the carefree mood and lively tempo adopted at the outset by Curzon and partners, which they sustain until the 5th and “slow” variation (but not in this one), giving a fine sense of coherence to the entire movement. The presto (3rd movement) is fast too and marvellously boisterous, but then the trio section slams the breaks and lapses into campy fussiness. And here lies the rub. In the opening “Allegro vivace”, taken at a nice, lively tempo, Willi Boskovsky displays a slightly wailing violin tone, Nikolaus Hübner’s cello tone is rather dry, and the Wiener players don’t do much of the accents that Schubert has peppered the score with. If I may use this now politically incorrect metaphor, it is a “feminine” reading, as opposed to the more “virile” approach of Serkin or the Fine Arts: not the “boys getting together for a brawl”, but “boys wooing the girl”. The Andante is subdued, again the tone is a rather plaintive, and the Wiener don’t do much of the fp markings that characterize that movement; but there are, I will grant, wonderful pianissimos throughout. The Finale adopts a leisurely, easy-going gait, with none of the exhilarating forward-motion that makes Serkin’s recording irresistible.
In “Death and the Maiden”, the Wiener Philharmonic Quartet’s first movement is metronomic and they are more attuned to the music’s charm (the Maiden?) than to it’s gripping tension (Death?): they (or the recording) simply do not produce much power. The theme with variations doesn’t start well: Boskovsky is so set apart from the others as to sound like a concerto for violin and 3 strings, and the phrasing is earthbound, with none of the otherworldly pianissimos conjured by others – but then the variations unfold with good attention to the details of phrasing and articulation written by Schubert and with a commendable forward motion, very true to the “Andante con moto” marking, to which the Wiener stick to the end, with the third variation (5:50) sounding like the lazy canter of a parading horse: there has been more gripping. Their Scherzo is not particularly brisk (Schubert writes “Allegro molto”) but what weakens it even more is, again, a lack of power, and the trio section, taken at a slower tempo, exudes the usual mawkishness, with no trace of underlying agitation (the same rhythms as in the outer parts of the scherzo pervade this trio): if this Maiden is gripped by Death she sure isn’t aware of it ! The Finale also suffers the same lack of power. In sum, this is a “Maiden’s’ quartet, but I don’t hear much Death.
There are a number of similar couplings in direct competition with this disc, including the Amadeus Quartet’s 1959 (and second) recording of the 14th Quartet paired with their 1975 recording of the “Trout” with Emil Gilels on Deutsche Grammophon, Dame Moura Lympany’s fine recording from 1974 unfortunately coupled with a mediocre reading of the quartet by the Gabrieli Quartet from 1971 on Classics for Pleasure, and a good, traditional interpretation by the Fine Arts Quartet on Boston Skyline from the early 60s (see link above).
For those nonetheless interested, there are too many editions of this very popular recording of the “Trout” for me to track them all. I’ve given above all those I could locate of the same pairing with the 14th String Quartet. There are more with different pairings, for which I won’t provide cover photos, just barcode to make it easy to find them on your customary commercial website (and I’m not trying to be exhaustive):
Other editions of the Trout Quintet. Individual CDs:
Decca Headline Classics 433 647-2 (+ Mozart Clarinet Quintet with Peter Schmiedl, Members of the New Vienna Octet) (1991), bc 028943364720 (good front and back cover photo on Amazon.com)
Decca Bouquet (German Edition) 436 501-2 (+ Mozart Klarinettenquintett) (1992), bc 028943650120 (see listing on Discogs.com)
Decca “The Classic Sound” 448 602-2 (+ Dvorak Piano Quintet) (1996), bc 028944860221 (see listing on Discogs.com)
London Japan “The Classic Sound” POCL-9782 (+ Dvorak Piano Quintet) (1996), barcode 4988005185679
Decca Japan UCCD-3435 (+ Dvoral Piano Quintet) (2005), bc 4988005398161
Decca Japan UCCD 7274 (+ Dvorak Piano Quintet) (2013), bc 4988005759481
SACD Analogue Productions CAPC 2110 SA (2017), bc 753088211065 (see listing on Discogs.com)
Decca 452 393-2 (2 CDs) “Schubert Masterworks” vol. 2 + Octet (Vienna Octet), Sonata for Arpeggione & piano (Rostropovich Britten) , Fantasy D 934 (Szymon Goldberg & Radu Lupu), bc 028945239323
Decca 444 546-2 (2 CDs) “The Essential Schubert” (with Symphonies 8 & 9, Rosamunde excerpts and miscellanea performed by Karajan, Solti, Münchinger etc.) (1995), bc 028944454628
Decca 475 820-2 “Original Masters” (7 CDs) “Clifford Curzon The Decca Recordings 1944-1970” vol. 4 (2006), bc 028947582021
Other editions of the string quartet:
Decca 452 396-2 (2 CDs) “Schubert Masterworks” vol. 3 + String Quartet No. 15 (Gabrieli Quartet), Quartettsatz and String Quintet in C major (Weller Quartet) (1997), bc 028945239620
Decca Eloquence (Australia) 480 4712 (+ String Quartets Nos. 10, 12, String Trio D. 471, String Quintet in C major by the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet) (2013), bc 0028948047123