WORKS: Octet in F major D803; Minuet & Finale D72
PERFORMER: Vienna Octet; Vienna Wind Soloists
CATALOGUE NO: 430 516 DDD
Like the Trout Quintet, Schubert’s Octet was very much a work written to order. In this case, one Count Ferdinand Troyer, a keen clarinettist, wanted a piece along the lines of Beethoven’s hugely popular Septet. Schubert duly obliged, adding a second violin to Beethoven’s ensemble, but following his sequence and pattern of movements closely. If the result is hardly one of his most profound compositions, it is irresistibly engaging.
The Vienna Octet last recorded the work for Decca some 15 years ago, and that earlier version is still available on a mid-price CD. Since then, the ensemble’s composition has undergone a complete change, as has their approach to the music. The playing now has far greater vitality and energy, and the slow introductions to the outer movements are more dramatically handled. Moreover, all repeats are observed, and Schubert’s text is closely adhered to. On the last point — there are several rapid passages in the finale which present the clarinettist and first violinist with almost insuperable difficulties, which were simplified in older editions. Here, the nimble-fingered clarinettist manages to play his part as it stands; and if the violinist is just a little more economical with the notes, no one is likely to object.
This is, in short, an immensely enjoyable performance, and immaculately recorded. For good measure, Decca have thrown in the two completed movements of an early projected wind serenade. Misha Donat