Wigmore Hall Live – Michael Collins and Friends: Schubert

0 of 5 stars

Schubert
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965
Octet, D803

Aitish Tynan (soprano), Michael Collins (clarinet) & Malcolm Martineau (piano) [D965]

Isabelle van Keulen & Peter Brunt (violins), Lars Anders Tomter (viola), Daniel Müller-Schott (cello), Peter Riegelbauer (double-bass), Michael Collins (clarinet), Robin O’Neill (bassoon) & Martin Owen (horn)

Recorded 14 October 2006 in Wigmore Hall, London


Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: November 2007
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
WHLive0017
Duration: 74 minutes

The problems of live recording seem to have been overcome very successfully. From the audible reaction it sounds as though a large audience was present, but that does not seem to have made the acoustic of Wigmore Hall too dry (there is always a risk that a sizeable audience might soak up a hall’s natural resonance). I have no great enthusiasm for leaving applause on recordings, but on this occasion it is natural and respectful and does not impose on the conclusions of the two works.

Concert performances are bound to restrict microphone placement but the recording is pleasingly realistic. In “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock) the soprano is well forward but in this instance her placement is very appropriate because this atmospheric work gives piano and clarinet very much of an accompanying role. At times the soprano uses her technique powerfully for dramatic moments but as the engineers capture her commanding timbres in a natural manner there is always a comfortable space around the voice. I find both playing and singing to be beautifully judged – surely this trio must have collaborated in this very individual work on previous occasions, so eloquent is their interpretation and so flawless their ensemble.

The group of musicians that performed the Octet is referred to as ‘Michael Collins and Friends’. I do not know how permanent this ensemble may be but it is quite clear that they are all superb instrumentalists. It is suitable that a clarinettist should act as leader in a performance of Schubert’s Octet, since the melodies are so frequently clarinet-led. Although the general balance is more than adequate, I sometimes had slight reservations about the definition of first violin and of bassoon.

The unanimity of phrasing is admirable, however, and this is certainly an expressive performance. There are long arching phrases in the opening movement and a certain freedom of tempo – the repeat of the exposition is not phrased in exactly the same way as the first time through – an excellent feature. In the two dance movements – the third-placed scherzo and the fifth-placed minuet –I found the freedom a little less convincing. The Gaudier ensemble on ASV create a splendid all-through swing to these movements but here (and only here) I could have wished for tauter rhythms. The players don’t actually slow down other than for the purpose of rounding-off phrases but the effect is less spirited than could perhaps have been achieved. Is this an attribute of live performance? Would the ensemble have luxuriated in the melodies a little less in a studio or church environment? The counter to this is found in the extensive Variation fourth movement: even though the expressive approach means that there are some slight differences of tempo caused by each Variation being given a different character; these very slight liberties do not detract from the affectionate elegance of the music-making.

As live recordings proliferate nowadays I begin to notice these small differences usually related to greater expressiveness – sometime an advantage sometimes not – but certainly this very relaxed and beautifully played performance must have sent the members of the Wigmore Hall audience on their way feeling that such sensitive and elegant music-making had provided a cultured evening.

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