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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Octet in F major for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, D. 803 (1824)
Dresdner Oktett
rec. live, Osterfestspiele Salzburg, 16 April 2017 Grosser Saal, Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria
PROFIL PH18034 [64:44]

In May 2016 I fondly recall reporting a Kammerabend (Chamber recital) at the Semperoper, Dresden where the Dresdner Oktett played both the Beethoven Septet and Schubert Octet. The level of performance was remarkable, and I remember at the time wishing the concert had been recorded. Formed in 2015 the Dresdner Oktett comprises of eight key section leaders of the world renowned Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden. Such is the reputation of this series of Kammerabend at Semperoper that the Dresden audience buy tickets long before the programme is even known. I was told of the great popularity of Kammerabend and sure enough when I attended Semperoper, that accommodates around thirteen hundred people, it was practically full. Less than a year later at the Osterfestspiele Salzburg, the Dresdner Oktett with the same personnel performed the Schubert Octet in live performance at the Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum which I’m delighted was recorded for broadcast by Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) and now released on this Profil CD.

Taking just over an hour to perform here Schubert’s much loved Octet is scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. It was written in 1824 thought to be a commission from amateur clarinettist Count Ferdinand von Troyer an official at the court of Archduke Rudolf, an heir to the Austrian throne. Troyer stipulated the score should be modelled on Beethoven’s Septet (1799) a work that at the time was enjoying great popularity in Vienna. During a fertile time for Schubert’s chamber music the Octet was composed during the same period as his String Quartets No. 13 in A minor, D804 ‘Rosamunde’ and No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’.

What an engaging and zestful work the Octet is with so much instrumental detail in its six movements brought out splendidly by the Dresdner Oktett led by Matthias Wollong, who serves as first concertmaster of both the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Bayreuth Festival. Fresh and spirited, the lengthy opening movement just bursts with vitality, evoking Spring-like scents and colours. Affectionate and tender the Adagio has much gorgeous writing for clarinet played quite beautifully here by Wolfram Große. Especially striking is the melodically memorable Allegro vivace – Trio, a Scherzo full of incident with typical unremitting Schubertian rhythms. Generously proportioned, the Andante has a memorable and lyrical theme taken from Schubert’s singspiel Die Freunde von Salamanka, D.326 with a fascinating set of seven variations. Approaching the Scherzo in terms of style and meter the satisfyingly lyrical Menuetto. The Allegretto feels as fresh and invigorating as the verdant Alpine scenery the composer knew so well. Under the surface warmth the players astutely reveal a slight undertow of melancholy. In the introduction to the Finale the shadowed tone of the low instruments asserts a dark, mysterious atmosphere. Then the music changes disposition to optimistic writing with an abundance of buoyancy taking the work gratifyingly to what is often described as its “brilliant conclusion.” Make no mistake this is playing of an elevated quality with utmost sincerity that penetrates the heart of the score. Standing out is the model intonation and unity of the Dresdner Oktett capturing the joyous spirit of Viennese music-making that radiates sincerity and feels entirely spontaneous. For this live broadcast performance at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the ORF has produced satisfying quality sound which is clear and well balanced. There is virtually no extraneous sound to worry about and at the conclusion just over two and half minutes of enthusiastic applause has been left in. Tobias Niederschlag has written the booklet notes that are pretty much ideal.

Of the finest alternative recordings in the catalogue the 1958 account by the Wiener Oktett can be safely called a ‘classic’. The Oktett is led by the late Willi Boskovsky, then renowned concertmaster of the Wiener Philharmoniker also becoming chief conductor of Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester. Recorded at the Vienna Sofiensaal the CD has been digitally re-mastered as part of Decca’s Legendary Performances series (c/w Spohr Octet). Another favourite account I have auditioned includes the Gaudier Ensemble produced in 2001 at the Henry Wood Hall, London. It’s certainly richly rewarding and beautifully recorded too on Hyperion. There is also the Mullova Ensemble’s delightful account from Polling im Innkreis, Austria and released in 2006 on Onyx. Admirable too is the 1996 account from Consortium Classicum made at Bad Arolsen, Germany reissued in 2012 on MDG.

With music making of unadulterated joy throughout from the Dresdner Oktett this is a performance to treasure. Undoubtedly with this live Profil recording of the Schubert Octet Willi Boskovsky and his Wiener Oktett now faces the stiffest competition.

Michael Cookson

A performance to treasure.

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