Review: Simply Schubert, Chamber Music, Snape Maltings, March 27th

For his eightieth birthday, the distinguished music broadcaster Humphrey Burton put together a weekend of music by Schubert, one of his favourite composers.

Sunday morning was devoted to two of the composer’s most celebrated chamber works but beginning with a novel arrangement of his song Auf dem Strom (On the river). Originally written for tenor with horn or cello obbligato and piano, the work has been transposed and adapted for mezzo-soprano with viola by Douglas Paterson who considers that ‘the viola can produce a horn-like quality in a certain register, but can also add another expressive dimension.’ Indeed it did under the skilful fingers of Paterson himself but it sometimes struggled to make itself heard against the piano and voice. Pippa Longworth’s strong, clear delivery suited parts of the song but she did not fully convey ‘trembling dread’ and ‘tears of melancholy’.

William Howard (piano), Simon Blendis (violin) and Jane Salmon (cello) then joined forces in the B flat piano trio - one of Schubert’s sunniest compositions. However, the sun did not fully shine in this performance. Despite the fluency and tonal control of Howard and a fine sound from Blendis the first movement had an air of routine and in the slow movement the mood changes and modulations were rather glossed over. The final two movements provided some enjoyable moments and a well balanced sound but overall it was not a performance to welcome the first day of spring.

The second half was devoted to the The Trout quintet, preceded by a fresh and spirited rendering of the similarly entitled song. The quintet produced much good playing, notably some arresting pianissimos from the pianist in the slow movement and dexterity and accuracy from all three in the third and fourth. Yet for all the technical skill I missed a sense of joy in the music and the music-making. Surely performing the Trout Variations at a birthday celebration is almost a definition of happiness but it did not quite come across.

Gareth Jones