Schubert Octet in F; 5 Minuets with 6 Trios, D89
Lorenzo Coppola (clarinet), Teunis van der Zwart (horn), Javier Zafra (bassoon), Isabelle Faust, Anne Katharina Schreiber (violin), Danusha Waskiewicz (viola), Kristin von der Goltz (cello), James Munro (bass)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902263 70:11 mins
Even by Schubert’s standards, February-March 1822 was exceptionally productive, for in addition to both the Rosamunde and Death and the Maiden string quartets, he managed to write, to order, the hour-long Octet. Doubtless composing the work’s easeful melodic flow served as a relaxation from the intensities of the quartets, and modern instrument performances from the Vienna Octet to the Nash Ensemble have tended to indulge affectionately in the rounded warmth and blend of its scoring.
Yet this latest period instrument performance, directed from her 1704 Stradivarius – the so-called ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – by Isabelle Faust, suggests something less cosy. Rather than the usual seating of the five strings in front of the three winds, she has grouped the strings to the left and winds to the right, bringing out the antiphonal contrasts between them. At moments, this creates a disconcerting imbalance, for while the wind instruments – not least Javier Zafra’s 1805 bassoon – have a sonorous presence, the virtually vibrato-less strings tend to lose ‘body’ in quieter passages. In seeking to honour Schubert’s every marking, Faust also sometimes insinuates tiny emphases and hesitations that sound studied, rather than spontaneous, as evidently intended. Yet there is much to admire here: some exquisitely wistful clarinet phrasing from Coppola, and a frightening fierceness in the sudden outburst that heralds the finale, where Schubert seems momentarily to foresee his tragic future. Not a first choice, perhaps, but a valuable counter-version to some of the more cherished recordings in the catalogue.