Exceptional Chamber Music from the Berlin Philharmonic Octet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Nielsen, Berwald, Schubert. Berlin Philharmonic Octet [Daishin Kashimoto (violin), Romano Tommasini (violin), Amihai Grosz (viola), Christoph Ingelbrink (cello), Esko Laine (double bass), Wenzel Fuchs (clarinet), Stefan Dohr (horn), Mor Biron (bassoon).] Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London. 13.2.2015 (LB)

Berlin Philharmonic Octet Photo No.2-500
Photograph: Berlin Philharmonic Octet credit: (c) Monika Rittershaus.

Nielsen – Serenata in vano (1914)
Berwald – Grand Septet in B flat (1828)
Schubert – Octet in F, D. 803 (1824)

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is famous for valuing, encouraging, and promoting its musicians. Its players not only enjoy wonderful conditions, but also perform on some of the most exquisite instruments available, and they are naturally universally respected as outstanding creative artists.

The Berlin Philharmonic Octet, which has a long and illustrious history, is just one of many chamber ensembles that flourish under the Berlin Philharmonic umbrella, and this evening’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of the orchestra’s London residency, provided the octet with a prestigious showcase, and a full house. Their programme of Nielsen, Berwald and Schubert may have appeared slightly conservative, but it was delivered with panache.

They began with Nielsen’s relatively slight Serenata in vano, which is unusually, but effectively scored for cello, double bass, and three wind instruments. The acoustic was not particularly conducive to the effective integration of the wind and string sound, but the unity of the wind group was impressive, with individual solos delightfully articulated.

Daishin Kashimoto and Amihai Grosz then joined the ensemble for Berwald’s rarely performed Grand Septet. Berwald’s music was largely ignored during his lifetime and the fear of poverty inflicted on him the indignity of a string of non-musical jobs, but this evening his star shone very brightly.

As soon as Daishin Kashimoto put his bow to the strings, it was clear that we were in for a very special treat; he had the effect of immediately elevating the level of the music making to something way beyond the fundamentally flawless. The complexity of the phrases and colours he was able to summon from his violin, and the inspirational effect he had upon his colleagues was bewitching.

The Septet was given a joyful, imaginative and insightful performance, unequivocally confirming great artistry as the most powerful advocate for the unjustly neglected. Kashimoto’s prodigious mastery of the violin and his mercurial musical personality defy all superlatives; he is frankly a rare phenomenon.

Schubert’s Octet is one of the most important and substantial works of its kind, demanding sophisticated musical and instrumental command; and because it so well known, expectations are always high. 

Texturally the first movement sounded slightly opaque to begin with, and the wooden screens that had been judiciously placed behind the players on the platform did little to disguise the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s far from satisfactory acoustic.  The ensemble quickly made the necessary adjustments however, and chose to omit the exposition repeat in an otherwise energetic first movement.

Clarinettist Wenzel Fuchs’ exceptional breath control and beauty of tone contributed to an ethereal second movement, which was never in danger of losing its magic. The Scherzo was performed with great enthusiasm, and each of the variations following the charming fourth movement Andante theme was infused with charisma.

In an idea that has crossed the mind of many a mischievous musician, cellist Christoph Ingelbrink, made an abortive, if humorous, attempt to omit the Menuetto fifth movement and to proceed directly to the finale. It was a treat to hear such exquisite poise in the Menuetto and the playful nuances in the trio were judged to perfection. The finale romped joyously for home, with Daishan Kashimoto’s virtuosity in the complex passagework once again stunning. 

The ensemble was given a rapturous standing ovation, and the ensemble itself allowed Daishin Kashimoto a solo bow, and from a respectful distance they acknowledged and applauded his exceptional contribution to the success of their performance.

Leon Bosch 

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