Monday, February 12, 2018

USC Stars of Tomorrow play the “Trout”


Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

The fact that the Quintet in A major D.667 – commonly known as the “Trout” due to its fourth movement being a set of variations on Schubert’s own song Die Forelle D.550 – is not generally regarded by Schubert mavens as being amongst his greatest chamber works has not dented in the slightest its great popularity, and a capacity audience duly turned out at RHUMC for the February “Second Sundays at Two” recital to hear it played by this year’s group of “USC Stars of Tomorrow”: So-Mang Jeagal, piano; Justin Woo, violin; Kevin Hsu, viola; Benjamin Lash, cello; and Kaelan Decman double bass. 

l-r: Kaelan Decman double bass, Justin Woo violin, So-Mang Jeagal piano, Benjamin Lash cello, Kevin Hsu viola.
The work originated in 1819 on a summer vacation enjoyed by Schubert with two friends at Steyr, Upper Austria; here they spent much time with Sylvester Paumgartner, a local businessman and keen amateur ‘cellist, who reportedly asked Schubert to write a piece that would both include variations on the song, which he loved, and be scored for piano, violin, viola, ‘cello, and double bass – this unusual combination to match the instrumentation of an arrangement, which the group likely played, of Hummel’s then-popular Septet in D minor

It’s worth noting, then, that for such an informal “commission” Schubert nonetheless produced a large-scale, multi-movement Classical structure – sonata-design first movement, slow movement, scherzo and fast finale, plus the additional “Trout” variation set – proving, if proof were needed, his comfort with the form. His first movement is one of those that seems to have a slow introduction but which is, in fact, illusory: the marking, a pretty fast Allegro vivace, is there from the outset, the illusion being caused by the long note-values in the first couple of dozen measures. 

The young Schubert, three years before the
composition of the song, Die Forelle,
and five years before the "Trout" Quintet.
The young stars of the USC did the work proud. The long first movement stayed airborne on the tight rhythmic rein of Mr. Jeagal’s spry, athletic pianism, so that its extended length from the observation of the exposition repeat was entirely welcome. The transparency of the playing overall enabled one to appreciate Schubert’s truly resourceful development, as well as the masterful nonchalance with which he elides back into his recapitulation. 

The relatively short Andante second movement was limpid and easeful, and followed by a scherzo as vigorous as its trio section was playful. When the group came to the again modestly-scaled theme-and-variations fourth movement, once more the dominant impression was of sheer liveliness and enthusiasm. They took a particularly fast tempo for the third variation, where for the first time I noticed that the double bass has his moment in the sun carrying the melody – smoothly taken by Mr. Decman – against dotted rhythmic support from his string colleagues and cascading treble figuration on the piano. 

In the Allegro giusto finale, for once I didn’t mind the omission of the main marked repeat (unless I was much mistaken, not having the score to hand), as even without it this movement – to be honest one of Schubert’s least substantial – has plenty of repetition. As a result, the group had the whole delightful performance done and dusted in a scant 40 minutes, their last measures so tight and emphatic, the final unison chords so smart and clipped, that for a moment the audience seemed wrong-footed that the conclusion had actually arrived! 


Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 2pm, Sunday, February 11, 2018.
Photos: USC Stars of Tomorrow: easyridernews; Schubert: portrait by Joseph Abel.

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