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Schoenberg & Schubert

Schoenberg/Steuermann: Verklärte Nacht for Piano Trio
Franz Schubert: Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D. 898

Trio Jean Paul
Eckart Heiligers, piano ~ Ulf Schneider, violin ~ Martin Löhr, violoncello


Coffee Concert, Wigmore Hall Sunday 29 Oct 2006

Forget (just for now) the Beaux Arts, Guarneri Trio Prague and the Florestans, who have delighted us in this hall over the many years. We have been keenly awaiting a chance to catch up with Trio Jean Paul again since encountering them at Lucerne and following up with the CDs of their Schumann/Rihm project.


This sensational recital, one of our greatest musical experiences of the year, confirmed their world class stature, and its sounds will ring in my ears for a long time.


The particularity of a piano trio depends heavily upon the pianist, and Eckart Heiligers is fairly to be compared with Manahem Pressler, who has survived changes of partners to maintain the special character of the Beaux Arts Trio, Ivan Klansky of the Guarneris and Susan Tomes who casts her spell upon the Florestans.

Helligers is a brave musician, who is unafraid to push dynamics to momentary extremes, yet never dominates his colleagues, whose technical excellence and close rapport is unquestionable. In my book, he joins those named above as a great pianist, equal to the more famous who stake their claims in solo recital and concertos.


The Schubert revealed all this endearing work's felicities, and kept us spellbound. Between the movements, after tuning adjustments, they had brief moments of still and silent meditation, which we all shared. In the last movement there was a noticeable relaxation and spontaneity in teasing rubatos which, surely, were not exactly pre-planned. I was glad to see the microphones, as this was music making to catch on the wing, not under the beady eye of a studio producer enjoining retakes to eliminate every blemish. [It turned out they were not being recorded; the microphones had been left over from the previous evening's song recital !]


Edward Steuermann's arrangement for Piano Trio of Verklärte Nacht proved revelatory, and I was surprised to be hearing it only for the first time.

More often given on string orchestra than the original string sextet version, I find there is an earlier recording of this trio version previously available (Challenge Classics). Sometimes a little alienated by Verklärte Nacht's lushness, I was totally persuaded by the Jean Pauls that the piano brings a different focus to the famous instrumental story telling and, to my ears, is actually preferable to those usually heard. *

It is an interesting question to ponder how many masterworks are actually improved by reductions and arrangements? Readers' thoughts would be welcome.

Whatever, this was an astonishing half hour of uninterrupted playing which held the audience spellbound; the Trio Jean Paul's Ars Musici CD of Verklärte Nacht (with Brahms Op 8) went like hot cakes after the concert and was quickly sold out!

Received later for review, it proves to be one of the finest piano trio recordings that I know, deserving to be in every chamber music collection.

The Brahms performance vindicates my long-time preference for the original and longer version of his trio Op 8, and besides interpretative excellence they give us an intelligent discussion of the differences from its recomposition thirty-five years later as "Op 108", as Brahms himself jokingly referred to it. The Jean Pauls interpret it in terms of Brahms' "musical diary into which he wrote all his desires, hopes and final resignation". Equally illuminating is their discussion of Steuermann's faithful Verklärte Nacht transcription, which "practically points out in the compositional practice what Schoenberg had learned from Brahms".

Trio Jean Paul's Brahms/Schoenberg [Ars Musici AM 1383-2] and Schumann/Rihm [Ars Musici AM 1241-2] - "an essential purchase for anyone interested in either composer or both - as here juxtaposed, each illuminating the other" will long hold pride of place on my piano trio shelves.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Another recording of the Schoenberg/Steuermann: Verklärte Nacht transcription has come my way and confirms my admiration for this piano trio arrangement. [Trio Kandinsky: Columna Musica 1CM0185]

It is coupled with a jejune student trio (1918) by Roberto Gerhard and some Impromptus by Homs; it does not displace my recommendation for the Trio Jean Paul disc.

PGW Aug 08


Schubert Piano Trios complete

Trio Jean Paul

WDR LC 15080

After a long wait for their recording of Schubert's Bb trio (see review above, Wigmore Hall 2006) the Trio Jean Paul does not disappoint.

They eschew indulgence and give deeply considered accounts of these important works - one of a precocious 15 year old, the others from Schubert's last year. Always working as an ensemble, no one steals the limelight, these performances will give endless satisfaction.

The movements are many of them long, the 15 year old's single movement 15 mins, 22 for the last of the Eb's "heavenly length", it total's nearly an hour - an endurance tests for live audiences, better taken with breaks at home. "Time stretches to the uttermost, almost beyond measure"; thoughtful essays by the trio themselves and by Matthias Corvin.

Fine recording at Cologne Jan & June 2011; elegant packaging with rural backgrounds.

You won't need another version.

Peter Grahame Woolf