Schubert Purcell The Complete String Trios Resonus

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Trio in B flat major D471 (completed B Newbould)
String Trio in B flat major D581 (second version)
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Three Part Fantasias No.1-3 Z732-4
Sakuntala Trio
rec. 2021, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
Resonus RES10320 [58]

Here is a true chamber music album in the best sense of the word! None of the pieces included are probing, searching masterpieces taking us to the ultimate extremes of the human experience. What we get is a celebration of the quieter, more collegiate, even chatty virtues of making music together. Whilst written by two musical titans, on this record all the pieces are domestic in the best sense. Music to be played and enjoyed together.

The genre of string trio is a modest one over which looms the towering presence of Mozart’s great contribution, the E flat Divertimento K563. As Brian Newbould points out in his erudite notes, Schubert almost certainly knew that greatest of Mozart’s chamber works and its finger prints can be discerned in the two works he wrote for this tricky combination of instruments.

 In true Schubertian fashion the first Schubert trio (D471) was left half-finished and has been expertly filled out and fitted with the two extra movements the composer obviously planned to add to the surviving torso but never got round to writing. The bustling scherzo and its placid trio has been created from roughly contemporary dances (D790 No.5 and D820 No.6 respectively) written for the keyboard. For the finale, Newbould has rescued an orphaned allegretto (D346) for piano and worked out the rest of its rondo structure logically and agreeably. The resulting ‘complete’ work passes the listening test with flying colours. Indeed instead of a completed work where, by the time he got to the finale, the white heat of inspiration had moved on (not an uncommon phenomenon in Schubert), Newbould’s tasteful insertions give the work a shot of inspiration so that the finale might be its strongest movement. Incidentally, this is the first recording of this version.

This is early Schubert at his freshest but even in this relaxed, genial work there are clouds in the sky and however fleetingly, they do sometimes cross the sun. The slow movement whose quality even in its unfinished state inspired Newbould’s rescue mission is the heartfelt song of an ardent young romantic.

The second trio, written a year after D471, survives in two versions and the Sakuntala Trio give us the second one. This is a modest work with few pretensions beyond a kind of pleasant chat between the instruments. The slow movement contains sufficient quirks and in a subdued middle section even a sense of darker things to come to keep the attention of the modern listener. Everything about it fits with the ambiance of the recording as a whole: balm to the weary spirit. I am writing this on a bright sunny May morning and this little marvel by Schubert is its musical equivalent. What I hear in the Sakuntala Trio’s exemplary performance is love for the work, not straining to make it sound more than it is. The same point could apply equally to the entire programme. When the main tune of the finale, jolly and wistful at the same time as one would expect from Schubert, comes back to the accompaniment of pizzicati I am in heaven!

Whilst not the obvious fit with early Schubert, Purcell’s fantasias are more than just attractive fillers. They are presented as arranged for modern string trio by the composer Peter Warlock, himself no mean hand at string writing. He sensibly leaves in Purcell’s tangy harmonies played with lip smacking relish by the Sakuntala Trio. Whilst these ingenious works have been gaining traction in recent years, they do represent a less glamorous corner of the composer’s output.

The best recordings add up to more than the sum of their parts and this is one such. It is as much a matter of the presiding spirit of the undertaking as any of the component compositions included. Partly this is the rapport between the players, partly it is an attunement to the particular flavour of early Schubert, but put altogether what we get, in its quiet, unassuming way, is magic.

David McDade

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music