Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Franz Schubert, Atlantis Ensemble, Jaap Schroeder|
Schubert: Octet by the Atlantis Ensemble
A version on period instruments which captures Schubert's re
Discophage | France | 12/29/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As Amazon provided very scanty product info on this item, I had a hard time establishing that it was the recording by the Atlantis Ensemble led by the renowed "baroque" violinist Jaap Schroeder, on Virgin. Thanks to ab-cd-book for the help. Good to know that it can be found at very favorable prices: believing it had become a rarity led me to spend on it much more money than I usually do for CDs - and all the greater was my disappointment.
The grand-pop' of all chamber ensembles performing on period instruments, the Collegium Aureum, had recorded Schubert's Octet for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in the late 70s (reissued on CD in Japan, it seems). But other than that, the composition had to my knowledge remained the exclusive keep of modern instrument ensembles until the late 80s. Then within a few years came a spate of recordings on period instruments, starting with the Academy of Ancient Music Chamber Ensemble (L'Oiseau-Lyre), recorded in the Fall of 1988 but released in the early months of 1990 (Schubert: Octet in F Major D803), closely followed by this one, made in July '89. More still followed, by the London-based ensemble Hausmusik in 1990 (Schubert: Octett, EMI-Reflexe, now on a cheap European Virgin 5 CD box), Aston Magna (Schubert: Octet Music from Aston Magna, Harmonia Mundi) then L'Archibudelli and Mozzafiato in 1995 (Schubert: Octet L'Archibudelli & Mozzafiato, Sony). I refer you to my reviews of all these. This one is not among the best of the lot.
After a spacious introduction, the Allegro (played with its repeat) is vigorously phrased but taken at a comfortable tempo, to the point at times of giving an impression of plodding laziness. According to one's bent, one may feel that it captures Schubert's relaxed geniality or (as in my case) that it lacks a degree of dramatic tension. Wind playing is brilliant (in their little dialogue at 13:46 horn and bassoon manage to sound almost undistinguishable, a feature I've remarked on other period instrument versions). On the other hand, Schroeder's violin, though never lacking in expressivity (even with a somewhat fussy portamento at 3:44), is a bit thin in its razor-sharp vibratoless tone, and he is also insecure in some places (2:52 would have required some editing). Cellist Jaap Ter Linden is sometimes lazy in his articulation of Schubert's characteristic march-like rhythms (10:05), robbing the music of its likeness with the Allegro of the great C-major (9th) Symphony, and there are similar lazily articulated dotted rhythms in the 2nd movement, at 6:31.
Tempo in this 2nd movement (Adagio) is rather fast compared to many modern instrument versions but rather slower than the other period instrument ensembles, so you might want to call it a good compromise. Again the winds are excellent and clarinetist Hans Rudolf Stalder - very much the leading force in this movement - produces beautifully hushed pianissimos, but my minor reservation is that I find that his silky tone doesn't blend so well with Schroeder's more astringent violin. The Atlantis Ensemble's 3rd movement is taken at a pedestrian pace which belies Schubert's tempo indication of "Allegro vivace" - it is actually the slowest of the more than 15 versions I have heard so far - and in an acoustic perspective that is suddenly very (and unduly) resonant. The approach does reinforce the hocketing effect borne from Schubert's characteristic rhythm (reminiscent of Beethoven's 7th Symphony's 1st movement), and the sonic perspective added to the Ensemble's generally vigorous articulation imparts a sense of power to the hunt-like music, but not enough to offset an impression of laziness, reinforced by the sudden slackening of rhythm at 0:58 which makes it all sound as if in a half-sleep - the peasants' awakening in Beethoven's "Pastorale" comes to mind, but it could also be hunting under valium, and I find the overall effect rather soporific.
It is the 4th movement's theme and variations that fares best in the Atlantis Ensemble's interpretation. Their utterance of the theme and 1st variation avoids fussiness, the second variation is well accented and full of zest; their rather lazy approach to tempo and phrasing in the third variation is actually quite appropriate there, and the horn conveys an affecting sense of good-humored geniality. The gently flowing 4th allows for a finely romantic cello cantilena without any mawkishness, and the Ensemble commendably avoids any artificial whip-up of tempo in the 5th, where tension arises from firm accents and where the clarinet pianissimo over a more vehement violin line imparts a fine sense of pent-up mystery.
But this moment of felicity is short lived. The 5th movement Menuetto is well-accented but a bit pedestrian, and the effect is ultimately fussy and soporific. Things only worsen in the Finale: after a fast but powerful and dramatic intro, the ensuing Allegro is again taken at a plodding tempo - the slowest since Kremer (Schubert: Octet, DG), and it is precisely the latter's finale that marred an otherwise outstanding version (see my review) - and it is not offset by any vigorous articulation of Schubert's accents. Again the result is soporific, and one wonders whether the choice of such a tempo might have had to do with some of the players technical difficulties in playing the period instruments.
Hausmusik, the Academy of Ancient Music, L'Archibudelli are all better options on period instruments.