Friday, March 30, 2012

Schubert : Octet – Doric Quartet, Michael Collins

I've been listening happily to a wonderful performance of Schubert's octet, live, and wondering once again if our ideas about great music are too wedded to the notion of earnest music. 

Here's a case in point. The octet seems to want to convey no great struggles, no lofty contrapuntal ambitions, but simply to beguile. And yet in doing so it walks in a sort of garden of Eden that is perhaps the highest plane that music can reach. 
And Schubert seems to acknowledge this by his quotation, at the start of the last movement, of the question he posed in the piano accompaniment to Die Götter Griechenlands: Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? He would also use this motif in another composition – I will irritate you by leaving you to remember which one!

But back to this performance. It's chamber music at its best. There is a sense that the music can do no wrong. That from the first note, we can relax; the work will unfold effortlessly. I love when you're playing and that happens. I still recall a performance of the Mozart piano and wind quintet and that sense that I no longer had to make any judgements or decisions – everything was simply happening. 

Of course, Michael Collins earns his star billing here. Just listen to the effortless quality of his playing, from the way he floats above the theme of the adagio to the joyous end of the scherzo. But listen, too, to the other wind players. That's some mighty fine bassoon playing from Robin O'Neill for a start. 

Eight players, utterly on top of their game here. Enjoy!

Live from Champs Hill in Sussex, 29 March 2012
Michael Collins (clarinet), 
Doric Quartet, Richard Watkins (horn), 
Robin O'Neill (bassoon), Lynda Houghton (double bass)

M4a tagged and tracked at about 320 KBS VBR

Download from Rapidshare


  1. Well said, Ronan.

    This is one of the problems with today's marketing of classical music almost exclusively as a kind of transcendent experience - as in last summer's toe-curling TV ad for the Proms, with that Brian Cox lookalike emerging from an Alpine road tunnel looking as if he'd spotted the Higgs.

    As you say:
    A) Not all classical music is meant to be transcendent.

    More than that:
    B) Not all art is meant to be transcendent.

    And yet:
    C) 'Simple' pleasures can be transcendent.

    If music is mis-sold, then, when newcomers discover A), they're liable to be disappointed. The chances they'll reach C) are slim.

    Anyway, it takes time to grasp transcendence. I mean, how many inexperienced listeners hear Mozart's 'Great' g minor for the first time and immediately realise how 'Great' it is? I'd guess that, to many modern ears, it sounds tame, boring and banal. 'Classical', in other words.

    I didn't realise the Octet conceals this quotation, nor that it resurfaces in D.804 (iii) (am I right?). You remind us of another modern misconception: today's fetishism for originality - which leads to pretentious art-as-gimmick and so brings art into disrepute.

    By the way, the only Doric Quartet recording I own is already one of my faves - do you have their Wigmore Hall Live CD of Haydn quartets? Get it, flipping marvellous!

    1. It's funny how as a teenager I couldn't forgive Mozart for emerging from the anguish of the G minor quintet into the sunny rondo. Now I realise that in some way all that goes before it is necessary for the experience of simple joy that comes with the final movement.

      And thanks for the heads-up, Nick – I've earmarked their Haydn and Schumann!

  2. Dear friend, thank you. A version that I have listened with great pleasure.

  3. A few months ago I heard this Octet by Collins and I think other musicians than here in a live performance on the Austrian Radio. It was really vivid in each of its moments and I really thank you for this new sharing.