Schubert: Piano Trio Op. 100 & “Notturno,” Trio Latitude 41. Bernadene Blaha, piano (Hamburg Steinway D), Livia Sohn, violin (Samuel Zygmuntowicz 2006), Luigi Piovano, cello (Alessandro Gagliano 1710). Trio in E-flat, Op. 100, D. 929; Triosatz, Adagio in E-flat, op. posth. 148 D. 897 (“notturno”). Eloquentia EL 1129, ©2011 (recorded in 2010), TT 55:47 $18.95. Available from Amazon and iTunes.

Looking over a card file of live performances attended during the 1980s, I found six performances of the First Piano Trio in B-flat by Franz Schubert compared to only two concerts featuring his masterful Second Piano Trio in E-flat. Separate recordings of the First out-number recordings of the Second. This makes a new recording of the E-flat all the more welcome, especially since it serves to introduce a new ensemble, Trio Latitude 41, to the concert circuit.

Both piano trios date from Schubert’s last year, 1828. After the fifteen-year old composer wrote a single movement in B-flat, D. 28 in 1815, he abandoned the format until the support of violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, for whom Beethoven composed his quartets, led to a few public performances of Schubert’s instrumental works. Previously his works were heard in Schubertiads, concerts given in the homes of the composer’s friends. A probable performance of the First Piano Trio, Op. 99 by pianist Karl Maria von Bocklet, Schuppanzigh, and cellist Josef Linke, was given first in private in early March. The only concert wholly devoted to Schubert’s works was given on March 26, 1828 and featured the E-flat Piano, Trio but an indisposed Schuppanzigh was replaced by violinist Joseph Boehm. The composer finally received a decent sum of money along with publisher’s contracts. This allowed him to buy a piano but the composer died November 19, 1828.

Like the First Piano Trio, the Second is in four movements. The first movement, marked allegro, is dramatic and has considerable harmonic complexity. The heart of the work is the second movement Andante con molto which had its origin in a Swedish song, Se solen sjunker (The sun has set) composed by Isak Albert Berg which Schubert heard in the Fröhlichs’ home. According to Brian Newbold in Schubert: The Music and the Man “Schubert adopted the walking quaver chords” along an ornamental slide and “three melodic/harmonic features” from the song. This appears in the cello’s melody and is modified in the last two movements. Moreover, he went back to the first movement’s first draft and worked elements of the song into it too. Newbold calls the Scherzo “a superb example of listener-friendly canon.” Newbold calls the finale, especially the second theme, as “one of Schubert’s most captivating examples of instrumental scoring in chamber music.”

The name of Trio Latitude 41 comes from the actual latitude of both the venue of the group’s first performance in Rhode Island and the home of cellist Luigi Piovano in Rome, Italy. The group was formed in the summer of 2009 and consists of pianist Bernadene Blaha, violinist Livia Sohn, and cellist Luigi Piovano, all experienced soloists and chamber musicians.

The recording, on the Eloquence recording label, was made in September 2010 in the Rolston Recital Hall, The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada. I was initially puzzled when I first played this beautifully recorded performance. I thought it was too distantly recorded but further comparison with a number of recordings convinced me these musicians have cast off the established Romantic interpretation which gives great emphasis to the cello’s part. Most recordings and performances of the E-flat Trio are very dramatic with the players really digging into their strings to project into larger halls. Trio Latitude 41’s performance is like overhearing an intimate conversation in someone’s great living room. The cello part is brought back into equal balance with the violin and piano. What on first hearing seemed “anemic” grew upon me on repeated listening as being a fascinating new look at a repertory work. This is a most welcome addition to my record library.

The filler, Adagio in E-flat for piano, violin, and cello, “Notturno,” op. posth. 148, D. 897, receives a fine performance.