This is the most enjoyable account of Schubert’s Octet I can remember, on disc or in concert. It is a work lasting an hour, which with its many repeats can easily outstay its welcome despite the freshness of Schubert’s invention. But Michael Collins and a brilliant group of his friends from Britain and the continent give a performance that is wonderfully resilient and imaginative.
The Octet was commissioned by Count Ferdinand Troyer, steward to the clarinet-playing Archduke Rudolph, and that instrument is most regularly brought to the fore. Michael Collins, the most inspired British clarinettist of his generation, fully brings out the beauty of the writing. Schubert also knew that Ignaz Shuppanzigh, leader of the quartet most closely associated with performing Beethoven’s later quartets, was to be the first violin, and he, too, was given the limelight. Isabelle van Keulen is the excellent first violin. Others in the brilliant team include the Norwegian viola-player Lars Tomter, double bass-player Peter Riegelbauer of the Berlin Philharmonic, and Robin O’Neill, first bassoon in the Philharmonia.
It would be hard to devise a more distinguished group, and that is reflected in the freshness of the playing. The Scherzo third movement is wonderfully bouncy and the following Minuet elegant in its phrasing, with a fine spring in the rhythm and nice interplay between clarinet and violin. The finale swaggers along infectiously. In the lovely song with clarinet obbligato, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, Malcolm Martineau is the sensitive pianist accompanying the bright, fresh soprano of Ailish Tynan. The sense of a live performance in both Octet and song is beautifully caught. Another fine issue in the Wigmore Hall series.