Franz Schubert: Piano Trio in E-flat, Op 100

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The Atlantis Ensemble: Jaap Schroeder, violin; Penelope Crawford, fortepiano (Conrad Graf, Vienna c. 1835); Enid Sutherland, cello; Christopher Greenleaf, engineer; Brad Lehmann, producer.. (WLBR 9704)

Since I am not producer of this extraordinary recording, I feel a certain license to comment, unencumbered with the creative pride of ownership that make objectivity so elusive to artists and creative people.

These recordings are extraordinary. I thought so the first time I heard the master tapes, and now, CDs in hand, I believe it all the more vehemently. After listening several times I got out every available recording of the Op. 99 Trio, and listened for comparison, as a good critic would. I found my first impressions confirmed: this is a superlative performance, perfectly recorded, a glory of instrumental color and nuance, of Romantic passion and pathos, of antiquity preserved and rejuvenated. Clearly a dramatic synergy of creative energy has been manifested.

Jaap Schroeder is of the founding generation of Dutch musicians who formed ranks with Gustav Leonhardt, Anner Bylsma and Frans Bruggen to create a revolution in how certain old musics are played. Penelope Crawford is well known to people involved with early music, both in Ann Arbor where she is in the Music Department, and in Oberlin where she has been a leader in the summer Baroque Performance Institutes for some years. Enid Sutherland is a well known teacher and composer in Ann Arbor, where she lives with her husband, harpsichord and fortepiano builder David Sutherland.

The Graf Piano is something of a miracle in itself. Purchased at auction in Sweden (the other bidder wanted to make it into a desk), the instrument was carefully restored by Trumansburg, New York technician Ed Swenson, who managed to save and preserve the piano’s original leather hammers, dampers and moderator strip. To these ears, this Graf strikes a perfect balance, having ideal scale to support the other instruments, that wonderful woody quality that distinguishes good fortepianos from their modern counterparts, and the pearly high treble that one usually hears only on fine modern grands, and is essential to what Schubert has written in these trios.

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