“Trout” Quintet. Thomas Ades, piano; Arditti Quartet; members of the Belcea
Quartet. EMI 7243 5 57664 2.
The gimmick here is
the coupling of a modern piano quintet, Thomas Ades’s 2001 piece, with a
traditional piano quintet, Schubert’s 1819 “Trout.” In theory, the disc’s
producers want us to hear, uh, I’m not sure what. How much alike they are? They
aren’t. How much different they are? That goes without saying. How each
composer was trying out something new and different? More likely.
In his booklet
essay, writer Tom Service tries valiantly to make some comparisons between the
two works. He says of Ades’s newer quintet, “...the architecture of the piece
grows out of the transformations of its material. And in re-staging the
challenges of sonata form, the Piano
Quintet does not just articulate a contemporary creative perspective; it
represents a vivid rethinking of the musical past.” He goes on to say of the
Schubert Piano Quintet, “Schubert’s
forms are no less elusive than Ades’s: the ‘Trout’ quintet is an essay in
displacement and unpredictability that finds a contemporary resonance in the
slipperiness of Ades’s piece. Both works make the familiar strange, and liquefy
traditions in order to reinhabit them.” Yeah, well, maybe.
The fact is, Ades’s Quintet is typically modern, full of
wonderfully bizarre sound scapes, fluctuating time schemes, varied pacing, and
nary a remarkable melody in sight. It seems fairly lightweight next to the
Schubert, something like an orchestra tuning up, but there’s no doubting it
holds a fascination all its own, particularly in its cool, sometimes
translucently lunar musical landscape. The Schubert goes without saying, of
course, filled as it is with one memorable melody after another, flowing in
I have no idea how
Ades expects any five people to interpret his quintet, but since the composer
himself performs it on the disc, I can only assume it to be authoritative. As
for the Schubert, the group interprets it at a fairly brisk tempo, much as another
relatively young group contemporaneously recorded it, Frank Braley and friends
for Virgin Classics. Both ensembles show a degree of reckless abandon yet never
sacrifice the work’s elegant beauty or simplicity. It’s quite engaging.
Insofar as concerns
EMI’s recording, it is a tad brighter than most--perhaps a touch more
transparent or a touch harder, depending on your point of view and how your
equipment plays it back. I found the clarity of the sound nicely complemented
the lively performance. This would not be my first choice in the Schubert, in
any case, but for the collector it makes a fascinating alternative reading.