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A Carefully Crafted Recording of the Schubert Octet to Give Us Solace in Troubled Times

Until the lockdown, Franz Schubert’s Octet had been a staple of the classical concert repertoire for more than a century. But it wasn’t popular at the time it was written. Reviews of the 1827 premiere were not positive, and it wasn’t revived in concert until more than thirty years later. Let that endurance inspire us in our own struggles to return all the way back to normal. In the meantime, there’s a meticulous, insightful recording featuring the Modigliani String Quartet streaming at Spotify to inspire us.

As the album liner notes conclude, is the Octet an awakening of “A poetic language, in which exuberance and despair meet?” Until the end, there’s far less outright revelry than courtly conviviality, and a recurrent if distant sense of any attainable happiness slipping away. When he wrote this, Schubert was already battling the illness that would eventually kill him.

He nicks the principal opening theme from his song Der Wanderer, Sabine Meyer’s wistful clarinet signaling the suite’s first shift and then serving as a foil, more or less, to the increasingly warmer, elegantly pulsing atmosphere. Listen closely and you’ll hear a moody tarantella bubble to the surface, and then approximations of a harpsichord from the quartet: violinists Amaury Coetaux and Loic Rio, violist Laurent Marfaing and cellist François Kieffer. Very clever.

This ensemble – which also includes Bruno Schneider on horn, Dag Jensen on bassoon and Knut Erik Sundquist on bass – really bring the lights down for the nocturnal second movement. The third is also on the muted side even as the rhythms pick up. Horn and bassoon move closer to the sonic center amid the lustre of the fourth movement until Meyer returns, unwaveringly in character.

Movement six’s minuet has an especially delicate quality, the strings often stark against the wind instruments rather than simply building luxuriant atmosphere. The rattle of Kieffer’s foreshadowing beneath the wafting, distantly cautionary melody as the conclusion gathers steam is a refreshingly dynamic touch. After teasing the listener with a Beethovenesque series of false endings, the ensemble wrap it up in a cheery ball at the end.

And the quartet also have a new album of Bartok, Mozart and Haydn works.

September 29, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment