Verklärte Nacht, Op.4
Octet in F, D803
Razumovsky Ensemble [Michael Whight (clarinet), Julie Price (bassoon), Laurence Davies (horn), Winfried Rademacher & Alexander Sitkovetsky (violins), James Boyd & Andryi Vyitovych (violas), Oleg Kagen & David Cohen (cellos) and Neil Tarlton (double bass)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 13 January, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Razumovsky Ensemble has come up with some pertinent programming at the Wigmore Hall. This time last year saw a coupling of string quintets by Beethoven and Bruckner, while this current recital paired works by Schoenberg and Schubert, written 75 years apart, that are in certain respects sui generis.
The account of Verklärte Nacht (1899) was distinguished by an usual attention to detail, not to be taken for granted in music whose contrapuntal intricacy is too often sacrificed in the interests of relating it to the poem by Richard Dehmel that inspired it (though given the antiquated translation included in the programme, it was perhaps best to listen ‘blind’).The opening pages has the requisite brooding atmosphere and if there was a fault to the interpretation, it was that the players put so much emotional intensity into the stormy second section that what followed risked seeming an anti-climax. That said, the expressive warmth of the latter stages was never in doubt, with momentum sustained through to a final section summing up the agony and ecstasy of Schoenberg’s response with absolute conviction. This is a work that rarely fails in performance and nor did it this evening.
There cannot have been many occasions on which Verklärte Nacht has shared a bill with Schubert’s Octet (1824), but such is the flexibility of the Razumovsky line-up that this coupling felt entirely apposite. The latter work has tended to suffer by comparison with the string quartets its composer wrote at the same time, having neither the eloquence of these nor the verve of the earlier ‘Trout’ Quintet, while its overall length (63 minutes in this performance which observed all main repeats except that of the finale’s exposition) can add to the feeling of discursiveness. Not that this was a problem here, with the Razumovsky members mindful to place expressive emphasis on the later movements such that the overall proportions never seemed unbalanced. Moreover, the first movement’s slow introduction was interpreted with an acuity that was felt throughout what followed, of which the gently capricious set of Variations that make-up the fourth movement and the wistful pathos of the Minuet that follows were the highpoints. Motivically, too, there was no doubting the cohesiveness of the overall design – its relative expanse no less focussed than that of the piano trios or string quintet to come.
A fine performance, then, and further demonstration of the Razumovsky Ensemble’s prowess across the late Classical and Romantic repertoire. No doubt its next Wigmore outing (4 March), to include the Schubert work’s direct antecedent, Beethoven Septet, will prove equally illuminating.