The lyric beauties of Schubert's Trout Quintet -- its elemental rhythms and infectious melodies -- make it a source of pure pleasure for almost all music listeners .
But for students of musical forms and would-be classifiers , the work presents its problems .
Since it requires only five players , it would seem to fall into the category of chamber music -- yet it calls for a double bass , an instrument generally regarded as symphonic .
Moreover , the piece is written in five movements , rather than the conventional four of most quintets , and this gives the opus a serenade or divertimento flavor .
The many and frequent performances of the Trout serve to emphasize the dual nature of its writing .
Some renditions are of symphonic dimensions , with the contrabass given free rein .
Other interpretations present the music as an essentially intimate creation .
In these readings , the double bass is either kept discreetly in the background , or it is dressed in clown's attire -- the musical equivalent of a bull in a china shop .
Recently I was struck anew by the divergent approaches , when in the course of one afternoon and evening I listened to no fewer than ten different performances .
The occasion for this marathon : Angel's long-awaited reissue in its `` Great Recordings Of The Century '' series of the Schnabel-Pro Arte version .
Let me say at the outset that the music sounded as sparkling on the last playing as it did on the first .
Whether considered alone or in relation to other editions , COLH 40 is a document of prime importance .
Artur Schnabel was one of the greatest Schubert-Beethoven-Mozart players of all time , and any commentary of his on this repertory is valuable .
But Schnabel was a great teacher in addition to being a great performer , and the fact that four of the ten versions I listened to are by Schnabel pupils ( Clifford Curzon , Frank Glazer , Adrian Aeschbacher , and Victor Babin ) also sheds light on the master's pedagogical skills .
Certain pianistic traits are common to all five Schnabelian renditions , most notably the `` Schnabel trill '' ( which differs from the conventional trill in that the two notes are struck simultaneously ) .
But the most impressive testimony to Schnabel's distinction as a teacher is reflected by the individuality which marks each student's approach as distinctly his own .
Schnabel's emphasis on structural clarity , his innate rhythmic vibrancy , and impetuous intensity all tend to stamp his reading as a symphonic one .
Yet no detail was too small to receive attention from this master , and as a result the playing here has humor , delicacy , and radiant humanity .
This is a serious-minded interpretation , but it is never strait-laced .
And although Schnabel's pianism bristles with excitement , it is meticulously faithful to Schubert's dynamic markings and phrase indications .
The piano performance on this Trout is one that really demands a search for superlatives .
About the Pro Arte's contribution I am less happy .
I , for one , rather regret that Schnabel didn't collaborate with the Budapest Quartet , whose rugged , athletic playing was a good deal closer to this pianist's interpretative outlook than the style of the Belgian group .
From a technical standpoint , the string playing is good , but the Pro Arte people fail to enter into the spirit of things here .
The violinist , in particular , is very indulgent with swoops and slides , and his tone is pinched and edgy .
The twenty-five-year-old recording offers rather faded string tone , but the balance between the instruments is good and the transfer is very quiet .
There is a break in continuity just before the fourth variation in the `` Forellen '' movement , and I suspect that this is due to imperfect splicing between sides of the original Aj .
Turning to the more modern versions , Curzon's ( London ) offers the most sophisticated keyboard work .
Every detail in his interpretation has been beautifully thought out , and of these I would especially cite the delicious laendler touch the pianist brings to the fifth variation ( an obvious indication that he is playing with Viennese musicians ) , and the gossamer shading throughout .
Some of Curzon's playing strikes me as finicky , however .
Why , for example , does he favor two tempos , rather than one , for the third movement ? ?
The assisting musicians from the Vienna Octet are somewhat lacking in expertise , but their contribution is rustic and appealing .
( Special compliments to the double bass playing of Johann Krumpp : his scrawny , tottering sound adds a delightful hilarity to the performance .
The Glazer-Fine Arts edition ( Concert-Disc ) is a model of lucidity and organization .
It is , moreover , a perfectly integrated ensemble effort .
But having lived with the disc for some time now , I find the performance less exciting than either Schnabel's or Fleisher's ( whose superb performance with the Budapest Quartet has still to be recorded ) and a good deal less filled with humor than Curzon's .
Aeschbacher's work is very much akin to Schnabel's , but the sound on his Decca disc is dated , and you will have a hard time locating a copy of it .
The Hephzibah Menuhin-Amadeus Quartet ( Angel ) and Victor Babin-Festival Quartet ( RCA Victor ) editions give us superlative string playing ( both in symphonic style ) crippled by unimaginative piano playing .
( Babin has acquired some of Schnabel's keyboard manner , but his playing is of limited insight .
) Badura-Skoda-Vienna Konzerthaus ( Westminster ) and Demus-Schubert Quartet ( Deutsche Grammophon ) are both warm-toned , pleasantly lyrical , but rather slack and tensionless .
Helmut Roloff , playing with a group of musicians from the Bayreuth Ensemble , gives a sturdy reading , in much the same vein as that of the last-mentioned pianists .
Telefunken has accorded him beautiful sound , and this bargain-priced disc ( it sells for $2.98 ) is worthy of consideration .
Returning once again to the Schnabel reissue , I am beguiled anew by the magnificence of this pianist's musical penetration .
Here is truly a `` Great Recording of the Century '' , and its greatness is by no means diminished by the fact that it is not quite perfect .
This recording surely belongs in everyone's collection .
Must records always sound like records ? ?
From the beginning of commercial recording , new discs purported to be indistinguishable from The Real Thing have regularly been put in circulation .
Seen in perspective , many of these releases have a genuine claim to be milestones .
Although lacking absolute verisimilitude , they supply the ear and the imagination with all necessary materials for re-creation of the original .
On the basis of what they give us we can know how the young Caruso sang , appreciate the distinctive qualities of Parsifal under Karl Muck's baton , or sense the type of ensemble Toscanini created in his years with the New York Philharmonic .
Since the concept of high fidelity became important some dozen years ago , the claims of technical improvements have multiplied tenfold .
In many cases the revolutionary production has offered no more than sensational effects : the first hearing was fascinating and the second disillusioning as the gap between sound and substance became clearer .
Other innovations with better claims to musical interest survived rehearing to acquire in time the status of classics .
If we return to them today , we have no difficulty spotting their weaknesses but we find them still pleasing .
Records sound like records because they provide a different sort of experience than live music .
This difference is made up of many factors .
Some of them are obvious , such as the fact that we associate recorded and live music with our responses and behavior in different types of environments and social settings .
( Music often sounds best to me when I can dress informally and sit in something more comfortable than a theatre seat .
) From the technical standpoint , records differ from live music to the degree that they fail to convey the true color , texture , complexity , range , intensity , pulse , and pitch of the original .
Any alteration of one of these factors is distortion , although we generally use that word only for effects so pronounced that they can be stated quantitatively on the basis of standard tests .
Yet it is the accumulation of distortion , the fitting together of fractional bits until the total reaches the threshold of our awareness , that makes records sound like records .
The sound may be good ; ;
but if you know The Real Thing , you know that what you are hearing is only a clever imitation .
Command's new Brahms Second is a major effort to make a record that sounds like a real orchestra rather than a copy of one .
Like the recent Scheherazade from London ( High Fidelity , Sept. 1961 ) , it is successful because emphasis has been placed on good musical and engineering practices rather than on creating sensational effects .
Because of this , only those with truly fine equipment will be able to appreciate the exact degree of the engineers' triumph .
The easiest way to describe this release is to say that it reproduces an interesting and effective Steinberg performance with minimal alteration of its musical values .
The engineering as such never obtrudes upon your consciousness .
The effect of the recording is very open and natural , with the frequency emphasis exactly what you would expect from a live performance .
This absence of peaky highs and beefed-up bass not only produces greater fidelity , but it eliminates listener fatigue .
A contributing factor is the perspective , the uniform aesthetic distance which is maintained .
The orchestra is far enough away from you that you miss the bow scrapes , valve clicks , and other noises incidental to playing .
Yet you feel the orchestra is near at hand , and the individual instruments have the same firm presence associated with listening from a good seat in an acoustically perfect hall .
Command has achieved the ideal amount of reverberation .
The music is always allowed the living space needed to attain its full sonority ; ;
yet the hall never intrudes as a quasi-performer .
The timbre remains that of the instruments unclouded by resonance .
All of this would be wasted , of course , if the performance lacked authority and musical distinction .
For me it has more of both elements than the majority of its competitors .
Steinberg seems to have gone directly back to the score , discounting tradition , and has built his performance on the intention to reproduce as faithfully as possible exactly what Brahms set down on paper .
Those accustomed to broader , more romantic statements of the symphony can be expected to react strongly when they hear this one .
Without losing the distinctive undertow of Brahmsian rhythm , the pacing is firm and the over-all performance has a tightly knit quality that makes for maximum cumulative effect .
The Presto Ma non assai of the first trio of the scherzo is taken literally and may shock you , as the real Allegro con Spirito of the finale is likely to bring you to your feet .
In the end , however , the thing about this performance that is most striking is the way it sings .
Steinberg obviously has concluded that it is the lyric element which must dominate in this score , and he manages at times to create the effect of the whole orchestra bursting into song .
The engineering provides exactly the support needed for such a result .
Too many records seem to reduce a work of symphonic complexity to a melody and its accompaniment .
The Command technique invites you to listen to the depth of the orchestration .
Your ear takes you into the ensemble , and you may well become aware of instrumental details which previously were apparent only in the score .
It is this sort of experience that makes the concept of high fidelity of real musical significance for the home music listener .
The first substantially complete stereo Giselle ( and the only one of its scope since Feyer's four-sided LP edition of 1958 for Angel ) , this set is , I'm afraid , likely to provide more horrid fascination than enjoyment .
The already faded pastel charms of the naive music itself vanish entirely in Fistoulari's melodramatic contrasts between ultravehement brute power and chilly , if suave , sentimentality .
And in its engineers' frantic attempts to achieve maximum dynamic impact and earsplitting brilliance , the recording sounds as though it had been `` doctored for super-high fidelity '' .
The home listener is overpowered , all right , but the experience is a far from pleasant one .
As with the penultimate Giselle release ( Wolff's abridgment for RCA Victor ) I find the cleaner , less razor-edged monophonic version , for all its lack of big-stage spaciousness , the more aurally tolerable -- but this may be the result of processing defects in my SD copies .