2009 Spannungen Festival - Schubert, Widmann: Octets

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SCHUBERT Octet in F , D 803. WIDMANN Octet Jürg Widmann (cl); Dag Jensen (bn); Sibylle Mahni (hn); Isabelle van Keulen, Veronika Eberle (vns); Rachel Roberts (va); Tanja Tetzlaff (vc); Yasumori Kawahara (db) CAVI 8553209 (2 CDs: 87:59) Live: Heimbach Hydroelectric Power Station 6/23/2009

This is a joyous performance of the Schubert Octet, recorded live at Lars Vogt’s Spannungen Festival in 2009. The previous year, the same festival issued recordings of string octets by Mendelssohn and Enescu ( Fanfare 33:3). The sheer pleasure of chamber music is evident in every note of the present release. In the Schubert, themes and fragments are passed from instrument to instrument in a spirit of communal dedication to the Schubertian cause. The horn’s darkening of the atmosphere right at the first movement’s close is expertly managed; Jürg Widmann’s clarinet line that opens the slow movement becomes decidedly conciliatory in nature. The tenderness of this Adagio is remarkable. The longest movement, its unhurried demeanor here is pure joy to experience. This seems to be one of those occasions when everything slotted in perfectly. The sense of exploration in the Andante con variazioni is near palpable. There is a deceptive, bumpkinish simplicity to the Trio of the fifth movement. Every mood seems perfectly realized—the drama of the finale’s introduction gives way to a finale proper that seems to encapsulate a whole world of emotions.

This is a version to sit up there with the very best (ASMF Ensemble or Vienna Octet, for example). The coupling, though, is what really marks this product out in the marketplace. Jörg Widmann’s own Octet was directly inspired by Schubert’s example, particularly that Schubertian characteristic of a permanent darkness lurking behind the scenes. The opening seems subversive. A harmless rhythmic gesture in octaves is soon the subject of much dissonance. Schubertian sunshine keeps on threatening to peek through the clouds. The sense of forward direction in this Spannungen performance is compelling. The horn fanfares of the Menuetto seem to simultaneously point in two directions, one backward (the world of Leopold Mozart and the hunting finales of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s four concertos), and sideways, to Widmann’s own third string quartet (see below). The most extended movement (at 9:34 in this performance) is the central “Lied ohne Worte.” There is some remarkable playing here of long lines that become positively mesmeric. The concept of parody (almost tangibly post-Mahlerian) is present in the brief, rapid-fire Intermezzo, a movement that seems to fall headlong into the finale. Veronika Krauledat, in her booklet notes, refers to this as an “anti-finale,” and it is easy to hear what she means. The composer refers to this last movement as a “night piece.” The music collapses into silence around the two-minute mark.

Most recently, a disc of Widmann’s string quartets on MDG impressed me (Leipzig String Quartet with Julianne Banse in the fifth quartet: MDG 307 1531-2), as did a disc of chamber music (the Colelgium Novum Zürich on Neos 10923). The latter disc also features the Octet, coupling it with more Widmann (the Freie Stücke for ensemble of 2002 and the Sieben Abgesänge auf eine tote Linde for soprano, violin, clarinet, and piano of 1997). The Spannungen performance finds more space in the “Lied ohne Worte” central panel (the Neos performance is 8:48) than the Zürich, but both come close to Widmann’s intensity of utterance. The Neos recording is closer and therefore more immediately involving on a sonic level, but the Spannungen account has the live element in its favor. As a result it has the feeling of inspired chamber music in action and for this reason it takes pride of place.

An important, and stimulating, release.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: AVI 8553209

  • UPC: 4260085532094

  • Label: Cavi

  • Composer: Franz Schubert, Jörg Widmann

  • Performer: Carolin Widmann, Dag Jensen, Florian Donderer, Gustav Rivinius, Hanna Weinmeister, Isabelle van Keulen, Jörg Widmann, Rachel Roberts, Sybille Mahni, Tanja Tetzlaff, Veronika Eberle, Yasunori Kawahara


  1. Octet for Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Strings in F major, D 803/Op. 166

    Composer: Franz Schubert

    Performer: Florian Donderer (Violin), Veronika Eberle (Violin), Dag Jensen (Bassoon), Yasunori Kawahara (Double Bass), Sybille Mahni (Horn), Gustav Rivinius (Cello), Rachel Roberts (Viola), Tanja Tetzlaff (Cello), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Hanna Weinmeister (Violin), Carolin Widmann (Violin), Jörg Widmann (Clarinet)

  2. Octet, for clarinet, horn, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, cello & double bass

    Composer: Jörg Widmann

    Performer: Florian Donderer (Violin), Veronika Eberle (Violin), Dag Jensen (Bassoon), Yasunori Kawahara (Double Bass), Sybille Mahni (Horn), Gustav Rivinius (Cello), Rachel Roberts (Viola), Tanja Tetzlaff (Cello), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Hanna Weinmeister (Violin), Carolin Widmann (Violin), Jörg Widmann (Clarinet)