Mullova Ensemble

Septet in E flat, Op.20
Octet in F, D803

Mullova Ensemble:
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Adrian Chamorro (violin)
Maxim Rysanov (viola)
Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello)
Heinrich Braun (double bass)
Pascal Moragues (clarinet)
Guido Corti (horn)
Marco Postibghel (bassoon)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 May, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A heavyweight programme, a matching of ‘similar’ works, both in scoring and ambition, the Schubert deliberately modelled on the Beethoven (such was the commission request to Schubert). While there were times during both of these renditions when one wished that just one of these compositions had been chosen (and contrasted with shorter works from another era), it was also instructive to hear these large-scale, six-movement, scored-the-same pieces juxtaposed, Schubert adding a second violin to Beethoven’s instrumentation.

Maybe the most memorable aspect of these performances was the sheer quality of the playing. Both works began in perfect unanimity and set the tone of virtual perfection with which all 12 movements were unfolded. Yet it’s not difficult to imagine more flexibility and more spontaneity, something more al fresco. Then again, the wonderfully fluid, rich-toned contribution of Pascal Moragues was a constant delight, so too the mellifluous, ripe and rasping horn-playing of Guido Corti (who seems incapable of fluster) and the confident punctuation of Marco Postibghel. Balance throughout, whether seven or eight musicians, was impeccable, the string-players’ give-and-take ear-catching, Heinrich Braun providing an alert and nonchalant foundation. In one string-trio ‘moment’ of the Beethoven, Viktoria Mullova (as focussed and as accurate as ever), Maxim Rysanov and Manuel Fischer-Dieskau suggested that they could explore Beethoven’s oeuvre for this medium to advantage.

Although repeat marks (save in minuets and scherzos) were ignored – probably wise (it was still a long evening) although it meant that the respective first movements tended to be dwarfed – these mannerism-free renditions sported a wide dynamic range and responsive musicianship, yet for all the style and integrity on offer there were times when something more impromptu and wittier was craved to sustain the ‘heavenly length’ of both these works.

Highlights included the vivacity of Beethoven’s fifth movement scherzo, perfect in tempo and bristling with liveliness (which compensated for a curiously deadpan account of the minuet that shares material with the Opus 49/2 piano sonata) and, in the Schubert, a hypnotically slow and serene Adagio, haunting sotto voce voicing for the Minuet and, then, a dramatic attacca into the finale’s tremolos, the Allegro being irresistibly bouncy.

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