Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Octet, D803 (1824) [63:41]
Consortium Classicum
rec. 11-14 December 1996, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany
MDG has reissued this performance of Schubert’s Octet recorded back in 1996. I was delighted to see that the world famous German clarinetist the late Dieter Klöcker is featured. It was Klöcker who founded the German chamber ensemble Consortium Classicum back in the early 1960s.
A much loved score, this Octet, cast in six movements is scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. It was written in 1824 as a commission from the amateur clarinettist Count Ferdinand von Troyer who was an official at the court of Archduke Rudolf, an heir to the Austrian throne. Troyer stipulated that the score should be modelled on Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20 (1799) a work that at the time was enjoying great popularity in Vienna. At a fertile time for Schubert’s chamber music the Octet was composed during the same period as his String Quartets No. 13 in A minor, D804 ‘Rosamunde’ and No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’.
What an engaging and zestful work this is with so much instrumental detail brought out splendidly by the players of Consortium Classicum. Fresh and spirited, the lengthy opening movement just bursts with vitality evoking Spring-like scents and colours. Affectionate and tender Adagio has some especially lovely writing for the clarinet which is played beautifully here by Dieter Klöcker. The best known and also the briefest movement is the sparkling Scherzo notable for its driving rhythms. Generously proportioned, the Andante has a memorable and lyrical theme taken from Schubert’s Die Freunde von Salamanka, D.326 with a fascinating set of seven variations. The Menuetto exudes elegance and sees the players cleverly unearth a restless undercurrent of disquiet. The shadowed tone of the low instruments assets a dark mysterious atmosphere before the music shifts gear at point 2:17 (track 6) to upbeat writing with plenty of vigorous drive. This takes the work to what is often described as a “brilliant conclusion”. Well recorded in 1996 at Bad Arolsen, Consortium Classicum is heard to best advantage. With playing out of the top drawer this convincing account has an abundance of vitality.
Of the finest alternative recordings, the 1958 account by the Wiener Octet can be safely called a ‘classic’. The ensemble was led by Willi Boskovski, the renowned concertmaster of the Wiener Philharmoniker and chief conductor of the Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester. Recorded at the Vienna Sofiensaal it has been digitally re-mastered as part of Decca’s Legendary Performances series on 466 5800-2 (c/w the Spohr Octet). Another recommendable account is from the Gaudier Ensemble. This they recorded in 2001 at the Henry Wood Hall, London. It’s certainly richly rewarding and beautifully recorded too on Hyperion CDA67339.
This is splendidly performed by Consortium Classicum but if asked to choose my preferred recording I would marginally plump for the commanding Boskovski account. It has not diminished with age and continues to give unfailing pleasure. A slight over-brightness in the highest registers is the only drawback but not one that should prove prohibitive.
Michael Cookson 

Splendidly performed.