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Gidon Kremer and his partners - among the most active soloists then and still today in Germany and the surrounding countries - made this recording of Schubert's Octet in 1987 during a European tour sprung from Kremer's Lockenhaus festival. It was one of the first to be released on CD, simultaneously with the Academy of Saint-Martin-In-The-Fields' second version on Chandos (Schubert: Octet in F major, D. 803). It is and outstanding interpretation, brisk, strongly accented, with great dramatic impact - but with one restriction, though.
fter a forward-moving and strongly accented first movement "adagio" introduction, the "Allegro" development, taken with its repeat (which wasn't the custom then, probably because of the LP's time limitations - witness the Chandos ASMF), is brisk and vigorous, with great dramatic impact. Kremer and partners take the sublime "Adagio" second movement at a gently flowing tempo and strongly mark the accents when these are called for (try the passage starting at 1:41); the clarinet is very much in the lead in this movement and Eduard Brunner, though he doesn't have a very silky clarinet tone, is capable of fine nuances, with marvelously hushed pianissimos. The movement's other highlights include a movingly lyrical cello at 6:04, the strong accents and dramatic impact in the last section starting at 6:58, and the haunting Berliozian flavor of the closing pages at 9:55, recalling the English horn calls in the slow movement of the Symphonie fantastique.
Unlike many others (and especially the aforementioned ASMF), Kremer and partners' pacing of the third movement is true to Schubert's "Allegro vivace" tempo indication, and the result is affectingly animated and boisterous - though not as boisterous as the period-instrument ensembles Hausmusik (originally on EMI-Reflexe, Octet in F for Strings & Winds, and now collated in a convenient Virgin box, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Hummel: Chamber Music [Box Set]) and Academy of Ancient Music (Decca/L'Oiseau Lyre, Schubert: Octet in F Major D803), whose unique "hunt-like" horn color, at a similar forward-moving tempo, conjure wonderful echoes of Handel's Water Music. Unlike them, the Kremer ensemble applies a gentle relaxation of tempo in the middle trio, but retain its preference for strongly marked accents.
In the fourth movement - one of Schubert's customary theme and variations - the theme doesn't linger and is sprightly and spirited in mood. The overall approach is one of forward-moving tempos and sharp accents of great dramatic impact. And for the anecdote: in the first variation Kremer questionably indulges in a schmaltzy portamento - the kind you'd be more likely to hear in summer at the terrace of some Viennese café, integral with the fiddler's vulgar wink. But then - oh well, maybe it's not entirely inappropriate after all: there is something of the Viennese café in Schubert's Octet, isn't there? and I must further confess that Kremer has perverted me here: anytime I listen to another version, I now miss the darn little wink. Anyway, this the only glaring lapse of Kremer's good taste I was able to spot.
Again the Menuetto (5th movement) is forward-moving in the vein of the classic Wiener Oktet from 1957 (Schubert: Octet D803 / Mozart: Divertimento K205) rather than the more relaxed approach of the Fine Arts Quartet (1962 - Boston Skyline, Schubert: Octet In F/String Quartet No.10) or Melos Ensemble (1967 - EMI, Beethoven: Septet & Octet - Mendelssohn & Schubert: Octets - Melos Ensemble of London), and further characterized by vivid instrumental flavor, sharp accents and clear articulation.
This outstanding reading is then topped off by - but no! wait! It is not what you were led to expect. On the contrary, it all goes inexplicably amiss in the finale. After the tremors of a portentous "Andante molto" introduction (echoes of Berlioz, again), developing a great sense of suspense and pent-up drama, Kremer and friends chose a very deliberate tempo in the Allegro development; They are presumably striving for a sense of easy-going bonhomie, but, despite the strongly uttered accents, the effect sounds comically pedestrian (and heavy-footed at that), ponderous, plodding - it conjures images of the hippopotamus wearing its pink tutu, really: a mock imitation of charm. Oh well. I guess you can say it is indeed a very original and unique view of the music. Whether it is musically convincing it is a matter of personal taste after all.