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Mullova Ensemble - Schubert Octet

David Hurwitz - Classics Today.com  10/10
You won't hear a more perfect performance of this perennially fresh piece than this one. Tempos sound invariably right, ensemble balances are perfect, and every player characterizes his or her part with affection, charm, and taste. Klaus Stoll's double bass lends the necessary extra weight to the general sonority, and the playing of clarinetist Pascal Moraguès is beyond praise. In the central variation movement his dialogue with horn player Guido Corti is so beautiful, so elegant, that it might well bring tears to your eyes.
But the performance isn't all exquisite sonorities and rounded edges. There's plenty of rhythmic verve, both in the first movement as well as the scherzo. Nor has the dark introduction to the finale ever been caught so fearlessly. The work's 63 minutes pass by with nary a dead spot, and the interpretation is supported at every turn by ideally balanced, warmly natural sonics that put the players right before you in a spacious but not too reverberant acoustic. The music itself is so disarming that it's tempting to just sit back and wallow in its sheer euphony, but this really is an interpretation that lives up to the very highest standards of taste and musicianship. Buy it, and enjoy. [4/17/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE FEBRUARY 2006: A thoughtful, expressive performance of Schubert’s multi-faceted Octet
(Duncan Druce)

 A spacious performance, enthralling and poetic: it leaves behind the world of happy Viennese music-making (best exemplified on disc, perhaps, by the famous 1957 Vienna Octet recording). Instead, we have a view of the Octet as one of Schubert’s major achievments, sharing much common ground with the other great chamber works of 1824, the A minor and D minor string quartets.
The Adagio is taken unusually slowly, but without any feeling of the rhythm sagging – the effect is unexpectedly profound and meditative. The following Scherzo is unhurried, too, yet is still full of spirit; it’s beautifully poised, with each phrase convincingly shaped. There’s only one movement, the Minuet, where the measured approach is maybe overdone; it’s marked Allegretto, after all, and here the effect is distinctly languid. However, the romantic feeling of the first movement’s introductory Adagio is perfectly captured, and the corresponding slow introduction to the finale, whose melodrama can sometimes sound like a tongue-in cheek shock tactic, emerges here as one extreme of a multi-faceted yet perfectly unified work.
And the thoughtful shaping of phrases isn’t confined to the Scherzo; it’s present throughout, keeping us constantly aware of the music’s expressive power. Even when these inflections seem slightly contentious – in the finale’s main theme, for example – they contribute to a constant feeling of lively communication.
The solo portrait of Viktoria Mullova on the CD cover gives a very misleading impression; the Mullova Ensemble is in fact particularly strong as a team, and it’s notable how she and Pascal Moraguès realise a sense of joint leadership.
IONARTS 17.02.06
Charles just reviewed Mullova’s Vivaldi, which was her first CD on the newly formed Onyx label. Onyx is a new and enterprising label formed by former Decca/Philips Classics producers who think that it should be possible to put the artist – not marketing – first in classical music recordings and still make a profit. Instead of dictating or “suggesting” to their artists what they record (or telling what they cannot record), they more or less administrate the recording process for the soloists and ensembles that have a project that they want to put on record. (That’s roughly how it looks from afar, at any rate.) They publish the self-recorded efforts of the Brodsky Quartet, they record Pascal Rogé (a review of Rogé’s Debussy – the beginning of a complete Debussy cycle – from last summer will be coming up shortly, and a review of his new disc of Ravel and Chausson trios will follow), Yuri Bashmet, and a whole array of superstars who are either frustrated with the big four’s policies, no longer fit in their marketing plans, or simply want to explore ‘commercially unsafe’ projects. Thankfully Onyx is distributed by a large company with a wide reach: Harmonia Mundi has picked them up, as they have done with an array of other exciting, high-quality labels such as Soli Deo Gloria and Mirare.
On this label, Viktoria Mullova (a former Philips client – no accident that she found her way to Onyx) now issues her second recording. She collaborates with musical friends Adrian Chamorrow (violin), Erich Krüger (viola), Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello – yes, son of Dietrich), Klaus Stoll (double bass), Pascal Moraguès (clarinet), Marco Postinghel (bassoon), and Guido Corti (horn) to great and truly cooperative effect. The coherence and musicality should not be a surprise: this is not a pick-up band but a group that has regularly performed (and recorded) for well over a decade. Since I don’t have their Bach concerto outing, I don’t remember having heard any of these performers (except Mullova, of course, and Fischer-Dieskau, whom I have participating in a very fine reading of the Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps on EMI), but they all play formidably. In particular the winds – most notably in the fourth movement Andante con variazioni – make some succulent contributions. The threatening lower strings in the introduction of the Finale: Andante molto – Allegro play haunting sul tasto with a superb touch. The sound is excellent with a very detailed presence, and all individual voices are easily identified and followed; though one can almost as easily sit back and take it in as a glorious whole, wonderful chamber music lasting over an hour. It’s Hausmusik of the best kind: a lighthearted spirit and joyous work given the attention of the highest quality of composition. Given its instrumentation it is quite different from the Mendelssohn octet and more like Spohr’s wonderful work in that genre. The liner notes by Jan Smaczny also mention the Beethoven septet, which comes to mind, too. A lesser-known work, and harmonically further down the road (if not by much), is the brilliant Rheinberger Nonett, a work that must be heard for its beauty to be believed.