Spira mirabilis, Kate Royal & Malcolm Martineau – Schubert

Octet in F, D803
An Silvia, D981; Der Vollmond strahlt auf Bergesöhn, D797; Abendstern, D806; An die Musik, D547; Rastlose Liebe, D138; Nachtviolen, D752; An die Nachtigall, D497; Heimliches Lieben, D922; Im Frühling, D882; Lied der Delphine, D857/1

Spira mirabilis

Kate Royal (soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Reviewed by: Hannah Sander

Reviewed: 5 December, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

You would be hard-pressed to find an ensemble more of-this-moment than Spira mirabilis. Young, with no management team or conductor, they build interpretations collectively and democratically. The musicians are drawn from across Europe, the group swelling in size as repertoire require, performing everything from solo works and chamber pieces to symphonies, and prepare with a week spent in the sleepy Italian town of Formigine, one work per concert.

Here Schubert’s Octet was performed, the sister work to Beethoven’s Septet and scored for the same forces – clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins (Beethoven has one), viola, cello and double bass. The six-movement work lasts around an hour, including a perky, Christmassy allegro-vivace variation with dotted-rhythm galloping reindeer; and a finale that at the start has all the menace of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The absence of a conductor was less of a feature in this music than it has been in Beethoven symphonies. Still, the discipline of working without a leader was in evidence. The tightness of the ensemble was impressive, and even more so the uniformity of the players’ house style. They banished any hints of sentimentality or indulgence. Their touch was always very light, brushing over the notes (with occasional inaccuracy), employing fast vibrato to create a dancing, spidery, spiky quality that is unlike the sound of any other group, fresh if at the expense of a hearty emotional core. This rendition of the Octet would not have suited those who like Schubert served with rich hot chocolate.

Kate Royal. Photograph: EMIKate Royal completed the concert with half-an-hour of Schubert songs. Royal sadly lacks the vocal glamour she had five years ago and the Queen Elizabeth Hall is not the ideal venue for late-night Lieder. Fortunately she had at her side the ever-delightful Malcolm Martineau. He found gorgeous colours in Schubert’s spare piano writing, in a recital that mixed favourite songs with some lesser performed numbers and two rarities, Der Vollmond and Lied der Delphine, both originally written for the stage. Of these, the latter is the more interesting piece, with touches of Gretchen at her spinning wheel; Der Vollmond was presumably written for an amateur singer, given its restricted vocal range. Nachtviolen was the standout setting: quiet, shimmering and very beautiful.

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