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Dip Your Ears, No. 54

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F. Schubert, Octet, Mullova Ensemble
Charles just reviewed Mullova’s Vivaldi, which was her first CD on the newly formed Onyx label. Onyx is a new and enterprising label formed by former Decca/Philips Classics producers who think that it should be possible to put the artist – not marketing – first in classical music recordings and still make a profit. Instead of dictating or “suggesting” to their artists what they record (or telling what they cannot record), they more or less administrate the recording process for the soloists and ensembles that have a project that they want to put on record. (That’s roughly how it looks from afar, at any rate.) They publish the self-recorded efforts of the Brodsky Quartet, they record Pascal Rogé (a review of Rogé’s Debussy – the beginning of a complete Debussy cycle – from last summer will be coming up shortly, and a review of his new disc of Ravel and Chausson trios will follow), Yuri Bashmet, and a whole array of superstars who are either frustrated with the big four’s policies, no longer fit in their marketing plans, or simply want to explore ‘commercially unsafe’ projects. Thankfully Onyx is distributed by a large company with a wide reach: Harmonia Mundi has picked them up, as they have done with an array of other exciting, high-quality labels such as Soli Deo Gloria and Mirare.

On this label, Viktoria Mullova (a former Philips client – no accident that she found her way to Onyx) now issues her second recording. She collaborates with musical friends Adrian Chamorrow (violin), Erich Krüger (viola), Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello – yes, son of Dietrich), Klaus Stoll (double bass), Pascal Moraguès (clarinet), Marco Postinghel (bassoon), and Guido Corti (horn) to great and truly cooperative effect. The coherence and musicality should not be a surprise: this is not a pick-up band but a group that has regularly performed (and recorded) for well over a decade. Since I don’t have their Bach concerto outing, I don’t remember having heard any of these performers (except Mullova, of course, and Fischer-Dieskau, whom I have participating in a very fine reading of the Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps on EMI), but they all play formidably. In particular the winds – most notably in the fourth movement Andante con variazioni – make some succulent contributions. The threatening lower strings in the introduction of the Finale: Andante molto – Allegro play haunting sul tasto with a superb touch. The sound is excellent with a very detailed presence, and all individual voices are easily identified and followed; though one can almost as easily sit back and take it in as a glorious whole, wonderful chamber music lasting over an hour. It’s Hausmusik of the best kind: a lighthearted spirit and joyous work given the attention of the highest quality of composition. Given its instrumentation it is quite different from the Mendelssohn octet and more like Spohr’s wonderful work in that genre. The liner notes by Jan Smaczny also mention the Beethoven septet, which comes to mind, too. A lesser-known work, and harmonically further down the road (if not by much), is the brilliant Rheinberger Nonett, a work that must be heard for its beauty to be believed.

onyx classics 4006

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