Two of my favorite works of chamber music have long been the Octets of both Mendelssohn and Schubert. Odd that the first comes from a 16-year-old and the second is considered a late work even though the composer only lived to age 31. Both are optimistic-sounding classical-Romantic serenades and hint at larger orchestral forces. The latter is especially true of Schubert’s opus, in which he himself said that he sought to “pave the way to grand symphonic works.” He employed large chamber works such as this to practise his mastery of large-scale symphonic structures – such as he proved himself the total master of in his magnificent “Great” C Major Symphony.
Schubert definitely had in mind Beethoven’s Op. 20 Septet when writing the Octet, He used the same scoring except for adding a second violin, and both works have the same number of movements in alternations of slow and fast. In the very first movement Schubert expands on the standard first-movement sonata form to an extent that presages his Brucknerian C Major Symphony.
The Scharoun Ensemble was founded over two decades ago by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. They performed the Schubert Octet at their very first public concert, and their repertory includes both Romantic and Classical period works as well as contemorary works by such composers as Henze, Ligeti and Kurtag. Tudor’s sonics are excellent, with good placement of the musicians on the soundstage. I think I was expecting to hear them all around me as on Tacet’s chamber music SACDs, but I soon got used to being confined to my proper place – in the sixth row center of the audience. Available at ArkivMusic.com
– John Sunier