FRANZ SCHUBERT died on November 19, 1828, 10 weeks short of completing his 32nd year. The centenary of his death, in 1928, brought forth all sorts of commemorative events, among them a competition, sponsored by the Columbia Gramophone Company in England, for the best completion of the Unfinished Symphomy: the prize went to Frank Merrick, whose scherzo and finale were duly performed and duly forgetten. (Merrick himself was more or less forgetten as a composer, but made a name for himself as a pianist.) The sesquicentennial of Schubert's death, besides enabling us to trot out the term "sesquicentennial," received more significant and more durable recognition in the form of many recordings of some of his greatest works -- most conspicuously the late masterworks in the realm of chamber music, which were discussed in this space during the recent fall. Whether directly related to the Schubert sesquicentennial or not, the recordings are still coming: Zubin Mehta is working his way through the symphonies with the Israel Philharmonic on London, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic have done them all in a five-disc set for Angel, and Vox (known now as the Moss Music Group) has just brought out two releases that would command the most delighted attention at any time, irrespective of anniversary context.
One of thest is a three-disc "Vox Box" of all of Schubert's chamber music for piano and strings. The set (SVBX-5110) does not include the duos for violin and piano or cello and piano, but it does affer the two piano trios, the Trout Quintet, and three shorter and less familiar pieces: the one-movement Sonata in B-flat for piano trio, D. 28, the Notturno in E-flat for piano trio, D. 897, and the Adagio and Rondo concertante in F major for piano quartet, D. 487. Performances are by the Eastman Trio (Zvi Zeitlin, violin; Robert Sylvester, cello; Barry Snyder, piano), with Milton Thomas, viola, and James Van Demark, double bass, and the recordings were made at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
Van Demark, who performed the Trout in Andre Watts's Schubert series two or three months ago, may become the successor to Julius Levine in recording the work. This is his second recording of it this season, the earlier one being a Philips disc (9500.442) made with three of his other associates from the Eastman School (members of the Cleveland Quartet) and pianist Alfted Brendel. Listeners who found the exuberance of the Brendel-dominated Trout spilling over into aggressiveness will find the Vox performance more to their taste. In common with the five other performances in the new set, it stresses the Schubertian sweetness of the music -- without, however, approaching anything resembling excess in that direction.
The Trout is only part of the set, and, good as it is, not the most striking part. Barry Snyder's brilliant playing in the sparkling Adagio and Rondo concertante , on the same disc, is almost worth the price of the set by itself, and the two records devoted to the four works for piano trio take us into a very special world. The opening of the B-flat Trio (Op. 99/D. 898) is less vigorous than usual, but this deliberate opening enables the performers to proceed through the movement without the shifting of gears that is also usual. Throughout both big trios and the two shorter works they seem thoroughly inside the music: unfeigned Gemuetlichkeit and downright elegant playing go hand in hand to bring off exceptionally satisfying -- on might say esalted -- realizations.
Zvi Zeitlin, of course, has distin-guished himself on the solo circuit over the last two last two or three decades, and young Robert Sylvester and Barry Snyder have also toured and recorded on their own, but their amaligamation as the Eastman Trio may represent a classic illustration of the principle of the whole greater than the sum of its parts. They seem born to play chamber music, and to paly it with each other. The sound is first-rate, and, at a list price of $11.95 (the aforementioned Philips Trout , without a second work, is $8.98), this set is one of the outstanding bargains in the current chamber music discography.
The second release, slighter than the Vox Box, but equally intriguing for its novelty value and similarly satisfying in terms of execution, is a single Turnabout LP (QTV 34729) on which Susanne Lautenbacher and the Wuerttemberg Chamber Orchestra under Joerg Faerber play all of Schubert's concerted works for violin.In addition to the familiar Rondo in A major for violin and strings (D. 438), these are a Konzertstueck in D major (D.345) which is the nearest Schubert came to composing a violin concerto, and an ingratiating Polonaise for violin and small orchestra (D. 580); all are products of the years 1816 and 1817, and all are quite adorable, as are the Five Minuets for string orchestra (D. 89), composed at the age of 16, which fill out this delightful disc.