SCHUBERT: Octet, D. 803 – The Fibonacci Sequence – Deux-Elles DXL 1145, 61:00 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
Schubert’s late Octet came about as a suggestion from the renowned clarinetist Ferdinand Troyer, who asked that the composer perhaps model it on the Septet by Beethoven. Schubert did just that, adding a second violin to bring the scoring to string quartet plus bass, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. Even the number of movements is modeled in this work, six in total, and the relationship among keys is very similar as well. The premiere was given at the estate of Archduke Rudolf (to whom Beethoven’s Archduke Trio is dedicated) and included many of the musicians who initially played in the Septet. The work is roundly considered one of the greatest of the chamber music literature, though its odd scoring does not give way to many performances, and many have suggested that its harmonie-like qualities and relaxed atmosphere, more an entertainment than a serious piece, make it inferior to works like Rosamunde and the Death and the Maiden string quartets, both composed around the same time. Personally I am in agreement with this assertion, finding the piece, as did the initial listeners, far too long for this type of ensemble and lighter weight music, though as in all Schubert there are moments of supreme genius.
The Fibonacci Sequence is one of the best chamber ensembles in England, with several excellent recordings to their credit, but I am not sold on this one. The recording tends to highlight the first violin in a manner outside what Schubert would have liked, and the balances among the winds and strings are not optimal, sometimes parts of each group seeming to fade out altogether. The reading is too soft to my ears, lacking incision and fully proper articulation, along with proper observance of dynamics, so evident in the spectacular recording by members of the Fine Arts Quartet and New York Woodwind Quintet on Boston Skyline, if you can still find it. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields reading (led by Iona Brown) won a Grand Prix du Disque and is another excellent recording, as is the Nash Ensemble on Virgin Classics. The Boston Skyline recording also includes a wonderful reading of another Schubert quartet as well, whereas all we have here is the Octet. This is recorded nicely if a little light on the treble—more crispness might have made a difference, but it is the interpretative decisions that I find most objectionable. Not bad by any means, but there is a lot of competition with 45 recorded readings on the market.
An excellent DG debut!