Schubert: Octet

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Octet
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic Octet
When Count Troyer – a keen amateur clarinettist – commissioned Schubert’s Octet, he suggested Beethoven’s popular Septet as model. Schubert responded with a piece that is similar in both structure and character: fresh and optimistic, and with a suitably prominent clarinet part. The Vienna Octet’s outstanding, satisfyingly idiomatic version captures the work’s beguiling blend of divertimento and seriousness in the glowing acoustics of the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Mozartsaal.


In 1824 Schubert wrote to Kupelwieser of his plans to compose a grand symphony, using the chamber works from this period as preparation. Understandably, then, the Berlin Philharmonic musicians have seized on the Octet’s symphonic potential with an unashamedly dramatic interpretation that is strikingly different from their Viennese rivals’. The portentous slow introduction gives way to a carefully shaped account of the first movement Allegro, boldly underlining its expressive contrasts. The Berliners likewise emphasise the score’s differences in the Andante con variazioni, although their scrupulous attention to fine detail often impedes the music’s natural flow. Brandhofer’s audible breaths in the Adagio’s clarinet solo generate an urgent intensity and the scherzo and minuet are conceived on an impressively grand scale. Great gusto in the finale makes a rousing conclusion.


The Berliners’ version of the Octet is a distinctly heavyweight affair that goes deeply into Schubert’s complex psychology at the time of its writing. However, sometimes what you see is what you get and, for my money, the Viennese ensemble’s easy grace more fluently communicates the music’s native charm with just the right level of emotional charge. Nicholas Rast