Schubert: Octet in F, D803

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Denon
WORKS: Octet in F, D803
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Ensemble Berlin
CATALOGUE NO: CO-75671 DDD
The similarities between Schubert’s Octet and Beethoven’s Septet (which provided its model) are far less important than Schubert’s assertion of his own personality which characteristically blends simple lyricism, melancholy and symphonic grandeur.

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The Philharmonia Ensemble Berlin emphasise the work’s symphonic character with robust sound and their strong projection of the music’s broad structure through textural variation. The predominance of the clarinet and first violin evident in so many versions of the Octet is largely eschewed here in favour of shifts of balance in which individual instruments emerge from and then recede back into the ensemble. The music’s mood and style have clear definition as a result. For example, the fourth movement variations culminate in delightfully frothy music which bubbles with Viennese charm, while the finale provides a powerfully dramatic conclusion.

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The Nash Ensemble’s version, originally issued in 1989, offers a finer-grained sound. Led by Michael Collins’s beautifully phrased clarinet playing, the Nash produce a highly expressive performance in which the music’s variety of mood is achieved through tonal refinement and finely-judged dynamic control. The Nash’s careful approach can sound a little too studied at times, but many will feel more at home with their more intimate chamber sound. Nicholas Rast