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AAA Music | 30 May 2020

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Philharmonic Octet Berlin – Live @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

| On 15, Feb 2015

Friday 13th February, London

Led by clarinettist Wenzel Fuchs, the Philharmonic Octet Berlin strode onstage to rapturous applause and swiftly took their standing positions for Nielsen’s Serenata in vano for clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello and double bass…

This short piece, written in 1914 by a forty-five-year-old Nielsen is a light filler piece, far from typical of his other music from this period. Fuchs, Biron (bassoon), Dohr (horn), Igelbrink (cello) and Laine (double bass) portrayed the character of the music perfectly, allowing their transient roles as soloists, duo and trio members, and accompaniment to flow between them. Through their instruments, we heard Nielsen’s rather immodest gentlemen trying to ‘lure the fair one onto the balcony’, each character attempting to surpass the latter until, realising they have been serenading in vain they march home, finally playing for their own enjoyment!

After more enthusiastic applause, the five musicians were joined by Grosz (viola) and Kashimoto (violin) to form the septet which was to play Berwald’s Grand Septet in B flat. Sadly this chamber work was not printed until 1883, fifteen years after Berwald’s death and fifty-five years after it was written. With more musical material to convey, we saw the septet expand their range of colours to fully express the exquisite melodic writing, innovative structural changes and characteristic voicing of instruments. Led by an assertive and attentive Kashimoto, the grand ‘Adagio’ introduction with bold, punctuated openings and sustained wind successions, beautifully executed by Fuchs and Biron segues into the ‘Allegro molto’. The initial utterance of the glorious singing melody of the second movement, ‘Poco adagio’ was wholly captivating due to Fuchs’ penetrative dolce tone and the subsequent delicate exchange between Fuchs and Kashimoto encouraged us to follow the course of the melodic contours as they built and fell away, sometimes in a soloistic line, sometimes in unison and later, in fugue!

Following a short interval, the audience settled into their seats for the final piece and welcomed the musicians back onstage, now joined by second violinist Tommasini. Written in 1824, during a decade in which his music was strewn with emotional turbulence and at a particularly difficult time in Schubert’s life, the Octet in F seems to be built on bittersweet, sad, and uplifting themes which erratically appear and disappear and sometimes inherently question whether the two conflicting emotions are in fact one and the same.

It was with tenderness and understanding that Fuchs, Kashimoto and Dohr brought out the master of melody’s vocal-esque lines for clarinet, violin and horn, but perhaps even more exciting were the unexpected and enchanting moments where accompaniment figures in the viola, cello and bassoon parts were interrupted by melodies venturing into less common registers and timbres, relayed beautifully by Grosz, Igelbrink and Biron respectively.

The distribution of these melodic lines again emphasises the brilliant musicianship of the Philharmonic Octet Berlin. Each musician demonstrated that they understood their role in terms of melody, harmony and rhythm within the structure as a whole. Schubert’s Octet in F, with its numerous changes of tempi, subtle rubato passages and its requirement for impeccable intonation (containing many unisons and exposed harmonies) served to highlight the expertise of the chamber musicians. I was particularly struck by Laine’s outstanding level of musicianship; he offered a superb foundation and sensitive accompaniment for the gliding melodies of the adagios and andantes, and the upbeat allegros and vivaces, relentlessly watching and listening to his colleagues.

A rather virtuosic ending for violinist, Kashimoto in the final majestic ‘Allegro’ section before the inevitable applause immediately erupted from the overwhelmed audience. So impressed were they that the players received a standing ovation, cries of ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Encore!’ and were welcomed back on stage countless times to accept the praise of their enthusiastic audience.

Heather Ryall

Photos: c. Monika Rittershaus.