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Schubert, Dvorak Piano trios

Schubert Piano trios in Bb and Eb D898, D929
Dvorak Piano trio No 1 in Bb Op21, No 4 in E minor Op 90 (Dumky)

London Mozart Trio
Colin Stone (piano) Charles Stewart (violin) David Kennedy (cello)

Portrait Classics PCL2104

Portrait Classics specialises in deserving reissues; its parent, Regis, is well known for having saved a number of excellent Collins recordings from oblivion; here are two well-polished, serviceable CDs of standard trio repertoire, at a very attractive price.

The opening movement of the set (D898) sees the players at their best, lyrical, committed , with an especially fine contribution from David Kennedy. As the work progresses, the sense of flow and élan is less strong, but this remains highly recommendable Schubert, at once optimistic and autumnal. Neither the B flat nor the E flat quite convey consistent authority, though they are never less than enjoyable.

The two discs are not quite equal in quality; though both are Mike Hatch's work, what is presumably the slightly more resonant acoustic of Conway Hall gives D929 a remoter feel, and its coupling, the first Dvorak, is generally thought far inferior to the Dumky or Op 65.

The last piano trio discs to come my way (Arman Piano Trio) coincidentally featured (with different couplings) the same Schubert and Dvorak trios to be found on Disc 1, and the two ensembles are very illuminatingly compared. Whereas I thought the Armans over-stated, the London Mozart Trio is deliberately under-interpreted. Indeed, this comes over as a very English, very 'stiff upper-lip' pair of discs. A number of opportunities are missed, above all, the uncanny return of the slow movement theme to the finale of D929 comes over as almost prosaic, and the performers do not really seem to let themselves go in the later Dumky movements.

Where the Armans might have seemed uncontrolled compared with, say, the Beaux Arts, the London Mozart Trio lacks the fizz and spontaneity of Susan Tomes in her Florestan recordings. In retrospect, the virtues of energy and passion of the Armans come over better against the British restraint; yet if you buy the London Mozart Trio issue, you are nevertheless unlikely to be disappointed.

Although artist-centred, this set laudably features the under-appreciated Finnish painter Hammershoi on its cover. Recordings and presentation are excellent. For a budget choice, don't hesitate.

Ying Chang