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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Octet for Winds and Strings D. 803 [65:36]
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello D. 471 [12:23]
Chamber Players of Canada: Julian Armour, cello; Murielle Bruneau, double bass; Jonathan Crow, violin; Andrew Dawes, violin; Guylaine Lemaire, viola; Christopher Millard, bassoon; James Sommerville, horn; Kimball Sykes, clarinet.
Recorded at St. Patrickís Church, Fallowfield, Ontario, June 14-15, 2002 DDD
CBC RECORDS MVCD 1159 [77:59]


In 1824, Count Ferdinand von Troyer, chief steward of the Archduke Rudolf, commissioned Schubert to write work to be a companion piece to the immensely popular Septet of Ludwig van Beethoven. One can only imagine the kind of thrill that the young Schubert must have felt to be placed in such auspicious company. The resulting work was the Octet for winds and strings. Modelled on the classical serenades of Mozart and Haydn, Schubertís works is longer than most symphonies, and is packed to the rim with the kind of captivating melodies for which Schubertís name is most closely associated. Sadly, the work only saw one public performance during Schubertís lifetime, and waited more than two decades to be published.

It is often said that Schubert never really mastered larger forms, and that his longer works get bogged down in development sections that are too long and overwrought, and that the classicism to which Schubert adhered in matters of form, makes for some pretty unbearable repeats. This is in fact, a fairly accurate assessment, and when I was broached with listening to this hour-plus work, I feared the worst.

To my great delight, however, I found instead a collection of shorter forms, as well constructed and worked out as such gems as the Moments musicales or Impromptus. The true delight of this music is the way in which Schubert captures symphonic sonorities with a small group of instruments. In addition, there is clarity of line that cannot always be achieved with a huge complement of players.

The Chamber Players of Canada have come together to form a very fine ensemble indeed, although there were a few hints that horn player James Somerville tended to over balance the rest of the group from time to time. In his defense, the engineers recorded the winds at fairly close range, and this very minor quibble may have well been the fault of the microphone placement, and not the musicians.

This is a disc that merited repeated listening, and the music is so tuneful and pleasant that I cannot imagine anyone not getting a good deal of pleasure from it. Julian Armour provides relatively interesting notes, although he cops out a bit by stating that music speaks for itself and needs no particular analysis. It sounds to this reader like he simply did not want to take the time to write a concise commentary of the works themselves.

The program is filled out with a lovely performance of an early incomplete string trio. Except for the occasional balance issue in the recording, this is a winner on all counts. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

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