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Briefly Noted: Lars Vogt swan song (CD of the Month)

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Schubert, Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2, Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt

(released on February 3, 2023)
Ondine ODE1394-2D | 136'45"
I was lucky to have heard the late German pianist Lars Vogt at his one local appearance in recent years, an extraordinary Beethoven first piano concerto with Markus Stenz and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2016. We have noted a number of his fine recordings over the life of this site, most recently an odd but satisfying one of rarely heard Romantic melodramas, made with his daughter Isabelle. As recounted in a beautiful article by David Allen for the New York Times, Vogt delayed checking into a hospital in 2021 for further analysis of the cancer that would eventually take his life last September, in order to travel to Bremen to make the first part of this double-album of Schubert's chamber music with Christian Tetzlaff and his sister Tanja Tetzlaff.

The resulting set is a remarkable testament to Vogt's sensitivity as a chamber musician. At their sessions (the second was after Vogt had started chemotherapy) the group recorded all of Schubert's piano trios, except for the Sonatensatz, D. 28, a work of juvenilia, as he composed it when he was just 15 years old. This performance of Piano Trio No. 2 is distinguished by its restoration of a section later cut from the Finale by Schubert, among many musical qualities, especially in the dark-hued slow movement. (There is an odd sound I can't identify at the 10:52 mark in the finale of Piano Trio No. 2.)

In addition to the two numbered trios is the Notturno, a single slow movement possibly composed for and then removed from the first piano trio, with which it has a related home key. It is this piece that stands out on the first disc, especially the graceful, unhurried performance of the hushed main theme. The more heroic contrasting sections sound defiant and determined, but it is that hovering, bliss-filled lead subject that haunts the ears. Schubert composed all three of these works for piano trio in 1827 and 1828, not long before his death, adding an element of wistfulness. What I heard first in the performance was confirmed in the emotional recollections of the Tetzlaffs, included in the booklet:
(Tanja) When Lars listened to this recording, he wrote in our trio chat: “Now I immerse myself in the miracle, too. Feels a little bit like everything, at least in my life, has developed toward this Trio in E flat major.” What again and again was heard from him was this ‘Now we’ve done it, recorded these trios; now I could go too.’ And I find that in the recording one notices that deep inside he already knew that in all likelihood he wasn’t going to be able to live very much longer.

(Christian) The recording was made shortly before the diagnosis. But after every session he lay on the sofa and had horrible stomach pains. And he knew that something catastrophic had happened. When he mentioned this piece, then what went along with it was that it very clearly deals with departure and death, very differently than the B flat major trio.
Vogt also recorded Schubert pieces with each Tetzlaff individually: the Rondo brillant in B minor with violinist Christian and the "Arpeggione" sonata in A minor with cellist Tanja, from 1826 and 1824, respectively. The Tetzlaffs had intended to make a concert tour with Vogt this year, which included one of the Schubert trios. The tour will go ahead, with Kiveli Dörken, a beloved students of Vogt's, taking his place. The tour's local stop will be at Shriver Hall in Baltimore on March 26.

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