Razumovsky Ensemble

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

Razumovsky Ensemble [Winfried Rademacher & David Alberman (violins), Philip Dukes (viola), Oleg Kogan (cello), Neil Tarlton (double bass), Michael Whight (clarinet), Julie Price (bassoon) & Timothy Jones (horn)]

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 8 December, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Profile of the young BeethovenThe Razumovsky Ensemble has acquired a reputation for polished, technically near-perfect performances. This is somewhat remarkable, given that the cellist Oleg Kogan chooses different players from a pool of freelance musicians for each concert. This also begs the question as to whether any real sense of communication or partnership can be established via such an ad-hoc arrangement, or whether the players can feel sufficiently at ease to plunge emotional depths.

Beethoven’s sadly neglected Septet was certainly impressive in terms of ensemble and individual technique. But the first movement lacked elegance, the second was too loud and fast and the third lacked wit and lightness. The fourth movement is a typical example of Beethoven’s conversational art; unfortunately the musicians were so smooth that any sense of discourse was lost – indeed, the performers seemed uninterested. There was little élan or joie de vivre in the scherzo and while the finale was rather better, it still lacked true attack. Technically though, the playing was exceptional – apart from occasionally suspect string intonation in the scherzo – and one could derive some pleasure from the plush sound the group produced.

A youthful SchubertIn Schubert’s Octet the introduction was weighty, but the clarinet-led first subject was devoid of expressive nuance, and while you don’t want the work to become a concerto, more projection from Michael Whight would have helped. Throughout this movement, and the rest of the work, nothing was allowed to disrupt the smooth sound and flow of the performance. The clarinet leads the Adagio’s mellifluous melody, yet once again there was no poetry or expressive licence. None of the performers allowed the music to breathe; this was simply a well-oiled machine. In the scherzo everything was exact but joyless, the dance elements under-played and the cello lacking fantasy in the trio. The Andante was devoid of humour and the Menuetto was lifeless. Schubert surely intended the dark minor-key introduction, with its string tremolos, to offer a humorous contrast to the courtly dance-like Allegro that follows, but, somewhat predictably the Razumovsky failed to highlight to this.

This ensemble made a beautifully homogenous sound but effortlessly skated over the emotional core of the music. So the answer to the question about partnership and emotion is, regrettably, ‘no’.

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