The Strad issue
Despite the great scale of these works, there is an intimacy in these performances by the Trio Wanderer. This owes something to the close-up sound, but much more to the constant attention to small detail. Every bar, one senses, has been carefully thought out: exactly how much staccato there should be, the relative stress on one note against another. There is a lot of minor rubato, little lifts at the ends of phrases, the better to bring focus to the next. Speeds vary within a movement as the character of a section might suggest. The sound, despite a reverberant acoustic, is quite dry, the tone of the string players on the woody side.
All this could result in no more than an irritating fussiness, and in the hands of lesser musicians it probably would. But these are very fine musicians, and these are very fine performances – of constant freshness and fascination. The attention to every detail is precisely what makes the whole so remarkable. The music can still have its broad sweep, of course: Schubert put it there, and no one is going to take it away. But that, with these recordings, is the point; it’s why they’re so good. There is no need to make them lush, to draw attention to the goose-pimple beauty of so many melodies; there’s no need to grandstand the drama. This is sheer music making, simple and astonishing. And anyone in urgent need of goose pimples can just listen to the opening of the Nocturne.