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Chamber Music in Sanssouci
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Serenade in D minor, Op. 44 (1878) [26'37].
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Octet in E flat, Op. 103 (1792/3) [21'42].
Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker (Philharmonische Bläser).
Rec. Jaspissaal, Sanssouci, Potsdam in 2990.
PCM Stereo. 4:3. Region 0 Worldwide.
ARTHAUS 100 725 [58'00]

 

Despite the low playing time - so search around for the lowest price! - there is much to delight here. The Dvořák is almost certainly the better-known of the two works. It is to be hoped that this issue will bring Beethoven's marvellous Octet to wider circulation. It is a wonderful piece, easeful of invention but clearly the work of a Master.

Recorded in the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, the setting for the concert is luxurious and decadent. The chosen room in what was the Summer Palace of Frederick the Great, absolutely gorgeous though it is, is also rather over-reverberant, something that comes across particularly in the more heavily scored portions of the Dvořák, the larger of the two works.

The playing of the members of the Berlin Philharmonic is exemplary. Their chosen layout is hair-pin like, with the two strings (cello and double-bass) at the point, and the wind players 'fanning out' in two lines from them. That slight blurring of textures I mentioned is most audible in the second movement. It does not help in the slow movement which is taken slower than implied by the 'Andante con moto' marking.

The Beethoven work's opus number belies its early date. It has all the hallmarks of Beethoven the young man in unbuttoned chamber mode. There is about this music a civility that is sometimes underpinned by hints of things weightier.

On the performance side, there is a real feeling of the Berliners 'coming home' when the Beethoven is reached. Blending is superb in this their natural territory, and there is real care in the Andante and a tangible sense of intimacy. The darker side of the innocently named 'Menuetto' is marvellously brought through, putting the high jinks of the finale into relief; and what horn playing!

The picture quality is not of the absolute highest. There is a suggestion of 'jerkiness' sometimes. But do try to hear and see this DVD. There is much to enjoy.

Colin Clarke

 


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