An (Over)Refined Schubert Octet

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Few Schubert Octet recordings match the present release for sheer ensemble refinement, suavity, and blend. Even the first- and third-movement forte outbursts and the Finale’s ominous low-register tremolos emerge without one iota of imbalance. In this sense the performance is flawless, together with the musicians’ astutely chosen and judged tempos. However, other versions offer greater degrees of characterization and inflection.

Take the central variation movement’s poignant exchanges between the clarinet and horn. Sabine Meyer and Bruno Schneider couldn’t play their parts more impeccably if they tried. Yet listen to clarinetist Pascal Moraguès and horn player Guido Corti in the Mullova Ensemble recording on Onyx, who transform this passage into a shapely and meaningful dialogue.

The Adagio stands out for tonal warmth and mellifluousness alone, not to mention Meyer’s prodigious breath control. But the strings melt into the background when they are accompanying, whereas Gidon Kremer’s DG recording presents a stronger linear profile, abetted by a slightly faster tempo. So does a comparably transparent and even more rhythmically engaging traversal on the Alpha label, led by violinist Pierre Fouchenneret. I also suspect that Mirare’s richly resonant sonics factor into my overall impression. Such is the price of perfection.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Mullova Ensemble (Onyx); Pierre Fouchenneret and Musicians (Alpha); Gidon Kremer Ensemble (DG)

  • Sabine Meyer (clarinet); Bruno Schneider (horn); Dag Jensen (bassoon); Knut Erik Sundquist (double bass)
  • Modigliani Quartet

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