Franz Schubert's two piano trios date from the last year of his lamentably short life, which ended just a few months from what would have been his 32nd birthday.

They were written for the composer's special circle of Viennese friends who enjoyed his music in the intimacy of what were essentially house concerts, although the second trio had a successful public performance in January, 1828.

Following Beethoven's lead, both works are sturdily proportioned, with substantial opening movements that reveal an admirable and tensile strength to Schubert's power of thematic development.

Yet this never stands in the way of the frank tunefulness and life-enhancing spirit that pervade both scores, from the jaunty launch of the first trio to the infectious cheerfulness that closes off the second, albeit with some poignant streaks of melancholy.


This new recording, with Andreas Staier, Daniel Sepec and Roel Dieltiens playing authentic period instruments, allows the light to come through just as the moon illuminates the rippling lake in the cover painting by Carl Gustav Carus.

Staier comes with impressive credentials from a number of recordings of the composer's solo piano music which use the same recreation of an 1827 Graf fortepiano that very much provides the anchor for this project's palette.

Although some listeners might find a movement like the Andante con moto of the second trio misses out on the intense emotionalism that a modern Steinway and robust string tone bring, there's a new beauty with sparser sonorities, especially with the musicians' immaculate ensembles and considered nuancing.

A gracefully turned bonus of Schubert's 1827 Nocturne is certainly appreciated, although there would also have been room for his charming Sonatensatz of 1812, included on the Capucon brothers' 2007 recording with pianist Frank Braley.

What: Schubert, Piano Trios (Harmonia Mundi, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Schubert's Piano Trios exquisitely caught in the palette of their times